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A History of the Sikhs 

Volume II: 1839-2004 

First published in 1963, this remains the most comprehensive 
and authoritative book on the Sikhs. The new edition updated 
to the present recounts the return of the community to the 
mainstream of national life. Written in Khushwant Singh's trade- 
mark style to be accessible to a general, non-scholarly audience, 
the book is based on sound archival research. 

Volume I covers the social, religious, and political back- 
ground which led to the formation of the Sikh faith in the fifteenth 
century. Basing his account on original documents in Persian, 
Gurmukhi, and English, the author traces the growth of Sikhism 
and tells of the compilation of its sacred scriptures in the Granth 
Sahib. Volume II covers a range of issues related to the Sikh 
struggle for survival as a separate community — conflict with the 
English and the collapse of the Sikh kingdom; its consolidation 
as a part of Britain's Indian empire; religious and sociological 
movements born under the impact of new conditions; the growth 
of political parties — nationalist, Marxist, and communal; the fate 
of the Sikhs in the division of the Punjab and the great exodus 
from Pakistan; and resettlement of the Sikhs in independent 
India and the establishment of a Punjabi-speaking state within 
the Union. 

Khushwant Singh a renowned journalist, is the author of 
several works of fiction, and an authority on Sikh history. A 
former editor of the Illustrated Weekly of India (1979-80), and 
the Hindustan Times (1980-3), he was Member of Parliament 
from 1980-6. He returned his Padma Bhushan, awarded in 1974, 
in protest against the Union Government's siege of the Golden 
Temple in Amritsar. 

A History of the Sikhs 

Volume 2: 1839-2004 

Khushwant Singh 





Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. 
It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, 
and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trademark of 
Oxford University Press in the UK and in certain other countries 

Published in India by 
Oxford University Press 
YMCA Library Building, ljai Singh Road, New Delhi 11000 l v India 

© Oxford University Press 1999 

The moral rights of die author liave been asserted 

First Edition published by Princeton University Press 1963 
First Indian Edition by Oxford University Press 1977 
Oxford India Paperbacks 1991 
Tenth impression 2004 
Second Edition 2004 
Thirteenth impression 201 1 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in 
a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, widiout die 
prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted 

by law, by licence or under terms agreed widi the appropriate reprographics 
rights organization. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside die scope of die 
above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, 
at die address above 

You must not circulate tliis work in any odier form 
and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer 

ISBN-13: 978-0-19-567309-8 
ISBN-K): 0-19-567309-3 

Typeset in Pratap (Baskerville) 10.5/12 
by Excellent Laser Typesetters, Pitampura, New Delhi 110 034 
Printed in India by Rakmo Press, New Delhi 1 10 020 

The maps in this volume have been taken from Ranjit Singh by Khushwant Singh 
and used by permission of George Allen and Unwin Ltd. 

To my parents 
Sardar Bahadur Sir Sobha Singh 
and Lady Viran Bai 


Preface to the Second Edition 

Since the last edition of A History of the Stkhs Volume II was 
published, many events concerning the Sikhs have taken 
place in the Punjab and abroad. These twenty years witnessed 
a steep rise in the incidence of terrorism which took a toll of 
thousands of lives, including that of the retired Chief of Army 
Staff, a serving Chief Minister of the State, a retired Finance 
Minister, police officers and civilians: it saw increase in the 
distance between Sikhs and Hindus and the migration of Hindus 
from Sikh-dominated villages to towns and cities. It also saw the 
gradual decline in terrorism, the virtual disappearance of the 
demand for a separate Sikh State and restoration of amicable 
relations between the two communities as well as the return of 
law and order and normalcy in the state. During these twenty 
years the state was put under President's Rule several times and 
since then has had Akali and Congress party governments. At 
the same time subtle changes were taking place in the economic 
life of the community. A large number of young Sikhs migrated 
to foreign countries to seek their fortunes: farm workers from 
Bihar and Uttar Pradesh came to the Punjab to work as labourers 
of Sikh farmers and settled in the state, bringing about impor- 
tant demographic changes. 

Writing the history of a community was not an easy task. 
Chronicling events of the recent past proved more daunting. I 
had to rely almost entirely on what appeared in the print media, 
mainly India Today and the Tribune. I also consulted reports 




time chief justice of the Punjab High Court) for reading the 
manuscript; to Dr M. S. Randhawa for information on Sikh 
painting; to Mr J. H. Mcllwaine and Mrs Rimington of the India 
Office Library for assistance in compiling the bibliography; and 
to Miss Yvonne Le Rougetel, who collaborated with me in the 
research and writing of both the volumes. I would also like to 
place on record my gratitude to the Rockefeller Foundation and 
to the Muslim University, Aligarh, for allowing me to continue 
and complete this work. 

For the revised paperback edition I acknowledge assistance 
given by Satindra Singh of the Economic Times and Rajinder 
Singh Bhatia, Editor of Qaumi Ekta. 

Khushwant Singh 

Illustrated Weekly of India, Bombay 


I would like to acknowledge my indebtedness to the Woodrow 
Wilson Center for a three-month grant which enabled me to 
devote my entire attention to examining the material available 
in the Library of Congress to updating these two volumes, and 
to bringing the story of the Sikhs to the present times. It also 
provided me with a research assistant, Dr Surjit Kaur, who 
helped me lay my hands on material on the Sikh community in 
North America and who arranged interviews for me. To my 
friend Satindra Singh I owe thanks for scrutinizing my text, 
checking my facts, and suggesting deletions. Above all, I would 
like to record my gratitude to my niece, Geetanjali Chanda, who 
put all the writing through the word-processor, cross-checked 
references, and corrected and edited the seven chapters. With- 
out her help I would not have been able to complete my assign- 
ment in the short time available to me. 


Preface to the Second Edition vii 

Preface ix 

Acknowledgments x 


L The Punjab on the Death of Ranjit Singh 3 

2. First Anglo-Sikh War 39 

3. The Punjab Under British Occupation 54 

4. Second Anglo-Sikh War 66 


5. Annexation of the Punjab 85 

6. Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 98 

7. Crescat e Fluviis 116 


8. Religious Movements 123 

9. Singh Sabha and Social Reform 136 


10. Rural Indebtedness and Peasant Agitation 151 

11. World War I and its Aftermath 160 

12. Xenophobic Marxism 168 



'What does the red colour stand for?* asked Maharajah Ranjit 
Singh when he was shown a map of India. 'Your Majesty,* replied 
the cartographer, 'red marks the extent of British possessions*. 
The maharajah scanned the map with his single eye and saw 
nearly the whole of Hindustan except the Punjab painted red. 
He turned to his courtiers and remarked: 'Ek rot sab lal hojaiga — 
one day it will all be red.' 

It took only ten years for the maharajah's prophecy to be fulfilled. 

Ranjit Singh's successors were not possessed of the qualities of 
leadership: their main preoccupation was to secure the throne 
for themselves by liquidating their rivals. The court split into 
different factions. The poisoned cup of wine, the concealed 
dagger, and the carbine took their toll of royal blood; the rabble 
slaughtered each other in the streets. The Punjabis became 
dispirited and disunited. Dogra Hindus contended for power 
with the Sikhs; Muslims became indifferent. Administratioa 
broke down. The army grew to a size which the state's revenue's 
could not finance; it became mutinous and ultimately took 0ver 
the functions of the state. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The English, who had anticipated the chaos that would follow the 
death of Ranjit Singh, began to move troops up to the frontier and 
to meddle in the internal affairs of the Durbar. By the autumn 
of 1845 they were ready to invade the Punjab. They defeated the 
Sikhs in a series of engagements, annexed Jullundur Doab, and 
gave Jammu and Kashmir to Gulab Singh Dogra. 

Three years later the English allowed a minor revolt in Multan 
to spread over the province, and utilized it as a pretext to annex 
the rest of the kingdom. As Ranjit Singh had foreseen, by the 
spring of 1849, the map of nearly the whole of India had become 

1 . The Punjab on the Death of 
Ranjit Singh 

Ranjit Singh, maharajah of the Punjab, died on the afternoon 
of the 27th of June, 1839. In the forty years that he ruled, he 
hammered warring Sikh factions into one and welded people of 
diverse loyalties into a nation; and he made the nation strong and 
prosperous. Guru Nanak's mission of bringing the Hindus and 
Muslims together and Guru Gobind Singh's endeavour to raise 
a warlike fraternity had succeeded. The Punjab was no longer a 
cockpit for foreign armies contending for the sovereignty of 
Hindustan; on the contrary, it had become not only the strongest 
Indian power but also one of the most powerful states in Asia. 
After many centuries of domination by Pathans and Afghans, the 
Punjabis had reversed the roles by extending their kingdom 
across the Pathan country and becoming arbiters of the destiny 
of the throne of Kabul. They had overcome Chinese satellites in 
Tibet and stopped British expansion to the west. No longer did 
the invader dare to set foot in the Punjab, to trample over the young 
wheat or plunder the peasantry when the harvest was gathered in. 
Highways had been made safe; once again caravans from Central 
Asia and Hindustan exchanged their wares in the markets of the 
Punjab. All this had been achieved by the people of the Punjab 
under the leadership of a man who had risen from their midst. 

Ranjit Singh was like a massive banyan tree which cast its 
shadow over the whole of the Punjab; and like the banyan he had 
sheltered the land beneath him to such an extent that nothing but 

The Punjab 


weeds could thrive in it. Consequently, when he died there was 
no oik of sufficient stature to step into his shoes and guide the 
destinies of the state. This applied particularly to the people who 
were close to Ranjit Singh: members of his family and favourites 
at court whom he had raised from rustic obscurity to power, from 
modest circumstances to wealth beyond their imagination. 

Ranjit Singh left seven sons. Since they were born of different 
women, the emotions that determined their attitude towards 
each other were fratricidal rather than fraternal. The eldest, 
Kharak Singh, who had been invested as the future maharajah, 
was the least suited to rule the Punjab. 1 He was an indolent, easy- 
going debauchee with neither the restless energy that had 
animated his illustrious father nor the down-to-earth simplicity 
that had endeared his predecessor to the masses. Kharak Singh 
was, however, not unwilling to leave the tedium of administration 
to more willing hands, especially to a favourite, Chet Singh 
Bajwa, who was related to him through his wife, Kharak Singh's 
son, Nao Nihal Singh, was cast in a different mould: ambitious, 
enterprising, and endowed with a pleasant personality. 

Ranjit Singh's second son, Sher Singh, was also ambitious 
and affable. He based his claim on being born of Ranjit Singh's 
first wedded wife. Kharak Singh refuted the contention and 
asserted that he (Kharak Singh) was the only legitimate son of 
his father, the others — Sher Singh, Tara Singh, Kashmira Singh, 
Peshaura Singh, Multana Singh, and Dalip Singh — were of 
doubtful paternity. 

The council of ministers and the nobility at the court were as 
divided as the princes. Two major factions emerged soon after 
the death of Ranjit Singh. The more influential was that of the 
Dogras, consisting of the three brothers, Gulab Singh, Dhian 
Singh, and Suchet Singh, and Dhian Singh's son, Hira Singh, 
who had been a great favourite of the late maharajah. Although 
the brothers were not always united in their purpose, one or the 
other member of the family managed to be in power at Lahore, 

1 * Besides being a block-head, he was a worse opium eater than his 
father,' wrote the royal physician, J. M. Honigberger. Thirty-Five Years in the 
East, p. 101. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

while Gulab Singh converted his fief in Jammu into an almost 
independent Dogra kingdom. 

Opposed to the Dogras were the Sikh aristocracy, of which 
three families — the Sandhawalias, Attariwalas, and the Majithi- 
as — were the most prominent. Since the Dogras were Hindus 
and the Sikh aristocrats were Khalsa, differences between them 
often assumed a communal aspect of Dogra versus Sikh. 

There was among the coterie of self-seekers a small number 
of men who refused to align themselves with either faction and 
continued to serve the Durbar as faithfully and honestly as cir- 
cumstances permitted. Outstanding among them were the Fakir 
brothers, notably the eldest, Azizuddin, who continued to be the 
adviser on foreign affairs, and the Kashmiri Brahmin, Dina Nath, 
who administered the departments of revenue and finance. 

In the scramble for power, the decisive factor was the support 
of the army: rival factions tried to win over the soldiers by 
offering higher wages and gifts, and appealing to their sense of 
patriotism. Seeds of indiscipline had been sown by Maharajah 
Ranjit Singh himself when he expanded and modernized the 
army in 1822. All his conquests had by then been made. 
Subsequent military campaigns yielded neither profitable terri- 
tory nor booty to meet the cost of expansion of the army. As a 
result, payments to the soldiers fell in arrears: some units 
remained unpaid for over two years. After Ranjit ' s death, when 
civil administration deteriorated and provincial governors be- 
came tardy in remitting revenues, the army was compelled to 
reimburse itself. Soldiers acquired the habit of looting civilians 
and selling their services to the highest bidder. They began to 
disobey their officers. (Officers had independent incomes and 
little identity of economic interest with their men.) Officers who 
tried to assert their authority were manhandled and even mur- 
dered. The men resorted to the practice of electing pahces 
(elders) to negotiate for terms of service. They left their units 
without permission to attend family functions or to help their 
brethren gather in the harvest. The most unfortunate result of 
the mutinous attitude of the troopers was to make the foreign 
officers very nervous. Many left the service of the Durbar; most 

The Punjab 


of those who remained sent their money and jewels to banks in 
India and showed no reluctance in furnishing information to 
British agents. 

With the loosening of central authority, the governors of the 
outlying provinces began to toy with the idea of becoming 
independent rulers. Gulab Singh Dogra started expanding his 
domain at the expense of the Durbar. Muslim tribes, particularly 
the Yusufzais around Hazara and the Baluchis between the 
Jhelum and the Indus, became restive. As the Durbar's authority 
weakened, the British began to mature their plans of stepping 
in. Their involvement in Afghanistan precluded for some time 
direct intervention in the Punjab. But as soon as affairs in 
Afghanistan were settled, they resumed their expansionist policy. 

Maharajah Kharak Singh and 
Prince Nao Nihal Singh 

Squabbling among the courtiers began while Ranjit Singh's body 
lay on the floor of the palace bedroom awaiting cremation. 2 
Maharajah Kharak Singh assuaged their fears by assuring them 
that their jagirs would not be touched. But his relations with his 
brother Sher Singh 3 continued to be tense for some time. Sher 

2 The chief courtiers foregathered in the palace and agreed unani- 
mously that 'no confidence could be placed in Koonwar Kharak Singh 
Bahadur and Koonwar Nao Nihal Singh Bahadur as regards the con- 
tinuance of the estates in their possession/ The next day after the 
cremation they came to the palace and again desired the heir-apparent 
'to console them (the noblemen) by a solemn oath on the Grarith that the 
grants respectively conferred on them by the late maharajah should be 
continued to them.* Panjab Akhbar, 27 and 28 June 1839. 

3 Sher Singh approached the British and pressed his 'superior' claim 
to the throne. He was quickly rebuffed by Lord Auckland. Government to 
Clerk, 12 July 1839. 

Sher Singh had kept away from his dying father's bedside because he 
suspected that Kharak Singh would take the opportunity to seize him. 
{Panjab Akhbar, 26 June 1839.) When he heard of his father's death he 
repaired to his estate in Batala and had the message conveyed to the 
Durbar that he would not attend the obsequies unless he was guaranteed 
immunity from arrest. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

at the same time, Take this in the memory of Maharajah Ranjit 

Maharajah Kharak Singh meekly submitted to his audacious 
son. Nao Nihal Singh occupied the palace in the fort and became 
the maharajah of the Punjab in all but name. 11 His attitude to his 
father changed from obstreperousness to filial propriety. 12 He 
let all the ceremonial functions remain the prerogative of his 
father while he attended to administrative matters. He had it 
conveyed to the ministers, governors of provinces, and generals, 
who had grown accustomed to being left to themselves by the 
ailing Ranjit Singh and the lackadaisical Kharak Singh, that he 
meant to govern the Punjab personally and effectively. They soon 
began to chafe under the prince's iron rule. But the prince gained 
the support of the British by overruling his counsellors and 
allowing British troops in Afghanistan to return through the 
Punjab. 13 Within a couple of months the Punjab felt as if the spirit 
of Ranjit Singh had been resurrected in the person of his grand- 
son, Nao Nihal Singh. 

11 SC 52 of 1.6.1840. 

12 Later, Nao Nihal Singh tried to get absolution from his father for 
his part in the murder of Bajwa. Kharak Singh continued to chafe at the 
deprivation of power occasionally remarking, 'I am not an idiot.' He tried 
to flee from Lahore but was apprehended by the prince and Dhian Singh 
Dogra and brought back to Lahore. SC 232 of 18.5.1840. 

13 SC 40 of 20.11.1839. The British government did not honour the 
terms of the Treaty of Lahore 1809 (Appendix 6, Vol. I) and again pressed 
the Durbar to let reinforcements cross the Punjab on their way to Kabul. 
Nao Nihal Singh realized the folly of putting all his eggs in the British 
basket. He is said to have opened negotiations with Amir Dost Mohammed. 
He also ordered defensive fortifications to be erected at Kasur to prevent 
British invasion from Ferozepur, which was reported to have been heavily 
refortified. Despite British objections, the Gurkha general, Matabar Singh, 
was allowed to continue residing in Lahore. 

The Durbar also felt aggrieved with Colonel Wade, who refused to treat 
Nao Nihal as the de facto ruler of Lahore. This was conveyed to Sir John 
Keane, the commander of the British force returning from Kabul. A few 
weeks later, when Colonel Wade himself passed through Lahore, he was 
not allowed to call on Maharajah Kharak Singh. The governor general 
realized that Colonel Wade had become persona non grata with the Durbar 
and in April 1840 ordered Mr Clerk to take over. 

The Punjab 


Nao Nihal Singh's troubles came from the Dogras. Early in 
May 1840, General Zorawar Singh Dogra reported from Iskardu 
that in consequence of the disaffection of the people with their 
ruler, Ahmed Shah, he had intervened and put Ahmed Shah's 
son, Mohammed Shah, on the throne and was himself firmly 
established at Iskardu. 14 Nao Nihal Singh, while approving of the 
acquisition of territory, did not want the Dogras to become king- 
makers in Little Tibet, and he issued orders for the reinstate- 
ment of Ahmed Shah, on condition that he send tribute to 
Lahore. Zorawar Singh turned to his immediate overlord, Gulab 
Singh Dogra, and the two devised ways of circumventing the 
prince's orders without openly flouting them. 

The prince realized that the Dogras had become inconveniently 
powerful. A considerable part of their wealth came from the 
exploitation of the salt mines, over which they exercised a 
monopoly. The prince wanted to terminate the monopoly so that 
the people could acquire salt more cheaply. 1 ' Before he could 
take any steps in this direction, however, Gulab Singh Dogra 
incited his neighbour, the raja of Mandi, to revolt against the 
Durbar. Nao Nihal Singh ordered two officers known to be 
hostile to the Dogras, Ajit Singh Sandhawalia and Ventura, to 
bring Mandi to obedience. This was accomplished, and Durbar 
troops brought the Mandi raja as prisoner to Amritsar. Ventura 
established a chain of police posts in the hills. Under instruc- 
tions from Nao Nihal Singh he abolished arbitrary taxes levied 
by the petty rajas and prohibited the sale of children and women — 
a practice common among the poorer sections of the hill people. 
Ventura's campaign subdued the hillmen for a little while. 

During the summer of 1840 the cannons of the fort of Lahore 
were kept busy firing salvos in honour of victories gained by 
Punjabi armies over the Dogra-supported hill people. Relations 
with the British were friendly; the Afghans did not matter very 
much. The countryside was peaceful. The people felt that the old 
days of glory had returned. But the summer's victories were like 
a lambent flame flickering to its death. 

14 Punjab Akhbar, 8 May 1840. 

15 Ibid., 20 May 1840. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The rot began at the top and spread to the entire body politic. 
Maharajah Kharak Singh, who had lapsed into utter idleness, 
began to drink more excessively and to consume large quantities 
of opium till he was reduced to a state of imbecility. On the 
morning of 5 November 1840, he succumbed to an attack of 
dysentery and high fever. At his cremation two of his wives 
mounted the pyre to commit satl. They made Nao Nihal Singh 
and Dhian Singh Dogra put their hands on the dead maharajah's 
chest and swear by all that they held most sacred to serve the 
state loyally and faithfully. 

Fate had ordained otherwise. Nao Nihal Singh consigned the 
body of Maharajah Kharak Singh and his consorts to the flames, 
dismissed the mourners, and made his way back to the palace. 
As he was passing under the gateway which gave access to the 
fort, the arch gave way, and slabs of stone and masonry crashed 
down on his head. A son of Gulab Singh Dogra was killed on the 
spot. Several others, including Dhian Singh Dogra and Dewan 
Dina Nath, received injuries. Nao Nihal Singh's skull was frac- 
tured. 16 

16 Many English writers, including Cunningham, Gardner (who claimed 
to be an eyewitness), Steinbach, and Carmichael Smyth, have expressed 
the opinion that the fall of the archway was contrived by Dhian Singh Dogra. 
This has been eagerly taken up by Sikh historians Prem Singh and Dr Ganda 
Singh, who ascribe the downfall of the Sikh reigning family to Dogra-Hindu 
machinations. There is little evidence to support this theory, particularly in 
view of the fact that Dhian Singh himself suffered some injury and lost his 
nephew. Despite rumours, Gulab Singh never held his brother responsible 
for the death of Udham Singh. The Hungarian doctor Honigberger, who was 
in Lahore at the time and treated the prince and the minister, is quite certain 
that the fall of the arch was accidental. (See Honigberger, pp. 102-5.) He 
is supported by Sohan Lai Suri in Umdat-ut-Tawarikh, iv, 70-1. 

The Intelligence Report from Lahore states: 
'This day — [5th November] about 9 o'clock a.m. Maharajah Khurruk Singh 
expired. His corpse was burnt with Rannee Isur Koonwur, sister of Surdar 
Mungal Singh and three slave girls. After this, while Koonwur Nownihal 
Singh was going through the gate of the palace a beam of wood accidentally 
fell upon his head and upon Meean Oodum Singh. The latter died instantly 
but Koonwur Nownihal Singh survived in agony a few hours.' SC 116 of 

The Punjab 


Dhian Singh Dogra had the unconscious Nao Nihal Singh 
removed to the palace, and, though there was little doubt that 
life was fast ebbing out, he had it bruited about that the prince 
was well on the way to recovery. When Nao Nihal Singh died 17 
a few hours later , the chief minister ordered that the news of the 
death be withheld till the matter of the succession had been 
settled. After consulting the senior members of the council, he 
invited Prince Sher Singh to come to Lahore immediately. There 
is little doubt that Sher Singh was the fittest person to succeed 
to the throne; he was popular with the army, courteous, and 
amiable; and the English, whose opinions were of consequence 
in the Durbar' s affairs, were known to approve of him. 

Dhian Singh Dogra' s plans were upset by his rivals in the 
council, who decided to support Kharak Singh's widow, Chand 
Kaur, 18 and sent word to her and her Sandhawalia kinsmen to 
come to Lahore at once. 

Dhian Singh Dogra tried frantically to get some sort of 
agreement from Chand Kaur before the intriguers' brew came 

The British agent, Clerk, in his report written on 7 November 1840, and 
in a memorandum written two years later, supports General Ventura's 
opinion that this was an accident. 

The facts themselves do not allow for any doubt on the subject. Kharak 
Singh died early in the morning and was cremated a few hours later on 
a spot which was alongside a public thoroughfare. It is highly improbable 
that anyone could, in broad daylight, have been able to set up a contraption 
by which an arch could come down on a given signal. 

The subject has been dealt with by Dr G. L. Chopr a in a paper entitled 
'The Death of Kanwar Nao Nihal Singh' published by the Indian Historical 
Records Commission, Vol. 18, 1942, pp. 29-33. Dr Chopra holds the view that 
the fall of the archway was accidental. 

17 Gardner, an extremely unreliable witness, states that when Nao 
Nihal Singh was brought into the palace there was only a trickle of blood 
from his ear, but when the colonel saw him again a little later, the floor 
of the room was hill of blood. He suggests that the prince was battered 
to death by Dhian Singh's hirelings, two of whom soon paid the penalty of 
knowing too much by being murdered; two others fled to British India and 
one was never heard of again. Memoirs of Alexander Gardner, p. 225. 

18 Chand Kaur was the daughter of Jaimal Singh of the Kanhaya misl. 
She was married to Kharak Singh in 1821. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

to a boil. He temporarily succeeded in persuading her to accept 
the honorific of a queen, with Sher Singh as the afsarkalan (chief 
adviser) . He summoned the British agent, and in the presence 
of all the courtiers asked him to convey to his government that 
the arrangement had been 'adopted by the whole Khalsa in 
concord and unanimity.' 19 A few hours after the meeting Prince 
Sher Singh arrived in Lahore. The death of Nao Nihal Singh was 
made known, and the succession of Sher Singh was proclaimed. 

In the afternoon Nao Nihal Singh's body was taken to the spot 
where his father's ashes still smouldered. Two of the prince's 
consorts mounted the pyre with him. One pinned the royal 
aigrette on Sher Singh's turban; the other daubed Dhian Singh 
Dogra's forehead with saffron to signify that he was chief 
minister. Before they perished, the satis made the prince and 
the minister swear loyalty to the state. 

Maharani Chand Kaur and 
Maharajah Sher Singh 

It did not take Chand Kaur very long to recover from the shock 
of the deaths of her husband and son. She exploited the sym- 
pathy that the tragedy had generated and staked her claim to 
the crown. 20 She sent for Gulab Singh Dogra from Jammu to 
counteract his brother, Dhian Singh's, influence. Dhian Singh 
suggested many compromises. She could marry Sher Singh or, 
being childless, adopt Sher Singh's son, Pratap Singh. Chand 
Kaur spurned the offer of marriage. How could she marry a man 
whom she described as sheroo coba — the bastard son of a dyer? 
She parried the suggestion of adopting Pratap by offering 
instead to adopt Dhian Singh Dogra's son, Hira Singh. She also 
had it noised about that one of Nao Nihal Singh's widows was 
pregnant. Dhian Singh did his best to bring her to reason. He 
placed his turban at her feet and implored her to accept the title 
of 'queen dowager' with Sher Singh as the head of a council of 

19 SC 79 of 23.11.1840. 

20 SC 116 of 7.12.1840. 

The Punjab 


regency. Chand Kaur tore up the proposal. In a stormy scene in 
the Durbar, Dhian Singh warned Chand Kaur of the danger of 
lending an ear to mischiefmongers. He told her that the govern- 
ment of the Punjab did not depend either on her or on Sher Singh 
or any of the claimants in the royal family, because it was the 
government of the entire Khalsa. 21 Gloom spread over the coun- 
try; soothsayers predicted the doom of the Khalsa government 
in the year 1840.- 2 

A few days later, two Sandhawalia Sardars, Ajit Singh and 
Attar Singh, arrived in Lahore and took over control. On 2 
December 1840, Chand Kaur was proclaimed maharani of the 
Punjab with the title maltha muhaddas — revered empress. The 
next day Sher Singh left Lahore for his estate in Batala. A month 
later Dhian Singh Dogra too was compelled to quit the capital. 
Chand Kaur and the Sandhawalias gained complete control of 
the administration. 

The dice were heavily loaded against Chand Kaur. The 
Punjabis were unable to reconcile themselves to being ruled by 
a woman who could not leave the veiled seclusion of the zenana. 23 
And Chand Kaur proved to be singularly inept in the art of 
diplomacy; she was vain, ill-tempered, and given to using lan- 
guage that became a bazaar woman more than a maharani. 

21 SC 116 of 7.12.1840. 'Raja Dhian Singh is indefatigable and firm. . . . 
He at this crisis has upheld the tottering Khalsa/ 

22 SC 117 of 7.12.1840. This was based on one of the many spurious 
versions of the sau sakhi — the hundred fables — ascribed to Guru Gobind 
Singh. It prophesied great misfortune to the Khalsa sarkar in Sambat 1897 
(ad 1840) and its restoration the following year by the reincarnated spirit 
of Hari Singh Nalwa. 

23 Bedi Bikram Singh of Una, who had come to Lahore to carry out the 
investiture, stated categorically that 'he had come to give the tikka (saffron 
mark) to Kanwar Sher Singh and not to a woman, for no woman had, or 
could ever, reign at Lahore.' The Mai sent word to the Bedi that he had 
better take care of himself. SC 107 of 21.12.1840. 

Panjab Intelligence of 7 December, states: 'The Mai sits in the Sum-mum 
Burj to hold her durbar behind a purdah with five or six other women, the 
chiefs of the council ...sit outside the purdah and give their opinions.' SC 
104 of 28.12.1840. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The chief problem of the Mat — mother, as Chand Kaur came 
to be known among the people — was the loyalty of the army. 
Sher Singh was popular with the troops and the European 
officers. He offered the troops an increase in wages. Desertions 
to the prince's camp began on a large scale. Most of the crack 
regiments went over to him, and the Mai's men were refused 
access to the magazine. Within a fortnight of her assumption of 
power, the Mai had to have two battalions posted inside the fort 
to protect her person. The state of uncertainty encouraged 
lawless elements in the countryside. The English started move- 
ments of troops towards the Sutlej. 24 

Sher Singh decided to seize power from the feeble hands of 
the widow and save the Punjab from disintegration. He sent an 
envoy to Mr Clerk at Ludhiana to obtain English reactions to his 
bid for the throne. The British were bogged down in Afghanistan 
and were in dire need of help. In the anglophile Sher Singh they 
saw a potential ally and gave him assurance of support. 25 

Sher Singh arrived at Lahore at the head of an army com- 
posed of deserters who had flocked to his colours; most of the 
Durbar's European officers were with him. 

The Mai did not lose heart. She appointed Gulab Singh Dogra 
as the commander-in-chief and charged him with the task of 
defending the city. She cleared four months of arrears in the 
soldiers' wages and lavished presents of gold bangles, neck- 
laces, jewels, and shawls on the officers. She issued orders to 
the city's bankers forbidding them to lend money to Sher Singh. 
These measures had the reverse effect. The troops sensed her 

24 The attitude of the British towards their allies, who had not only 
helped them to win the war in Afghanistan but were allowing their territory 
to be used by British armies as if it were a common highway, can be gauged 
by the correspondence that passed between Sir William Macnaghten and 
the governor general in Calcutta. Macnaghten proposed that the treaty of 
1839 be unilaterally declared by the British to be null and void and Peshawar 
be added to the Durrani kingdom. (Macnaghten to governor general, 26 
November 1840; governor general to Macnaghten, 28 December 1840.) 

He also suggested that the Punjab be further divided into two: the hills 
to be administered by the Dogras and the plains by the Sandhawalias. 

25 Se 66 of 1.2.1841 and SC 93 of 22.8.1841. 

The Punjab 


nervousness and felt that she was again trying to win a lost cause 
by bribery. Sher Singh had little money, but he was able to infuse 
confidence that his was the winning side and he would be able 
to redeem his promise of a permanent increase of Re 1 per 
month in the wages of the troops as well as reward those who 
joined them. The regiments stationed outside the city walls went 
over in a body. Sher Singh had 26,000 infantry, 8000 horses, and 
45 guns. The Mai was left with only 5000 men, a few guns, and 
a limited quantity of gunpowder. 

Sher Singh forced his way into the city. He made a belated 
proclamation 26 assuring safety of life and property to the citizens 
and offered pardon to those who would come over to him. The 
leading courtiers made their submission and forwarded a joint 
appeal to the Mai and Gulab Singh Dogra to lay down arms. 

The Mai, supported by Gulab Singh Dogra, refused to surren- 
der, and the battle was joined. For two days Sher Singh's artillery 
shelled the fort, and the guns of the fort poured death and 
destruction on the bazaars lying beneath the ramparts. On the 
evening of 17 January 1841, Dhian Singh Dogra arrived and 
arranged a ceasefire. The Mai was persuaded to accept a 
handsome jagir and relinquish her pretensions to the throne. 27 
Sher Singh undertook to show her the respect due to a brother's 
widow and to pardon the men who had sided with her. Her short 
reign of a month and a half was over. At midnight Gulab Singh 
and his Dogras evacuated the fort — taking with them all the 
Durbar's hoard of gold and jewels kept at Lahore. 28 Ajit Singh 

26 'In the kingdom of Guru Ram Das (the 4th Sikh guru who was born 
at Lahore) by the orders of Maharajah Sher Singh Bahadur, it is pro- 
claimed that anyone touching the property of the people shall be severely 
punished.' SC 60 of 1.2.1841. This proclamation was made after the troops 
had looted many bazaars and helped themselves to the wine cellars of the 

27 SC 97 of 8.2.1841. Latif s version of the agreement is somewhat 
different. History of the Punjab, p. 506. 

28 SC 88 of 8.2.1841. Gulab Singh Dogra had made immunity from 
search of himself and his men an absolute condition lor the surrender of 
the fort. The Mai reposing her trust in him appointed him agent of her 
estate in Kudi Kuddiali, which adjoined Gulab Singh's territories. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Sandhawalia fled to seek help from the British agent at Ludhiana. 
On Mr Clerk's refusal to receive him, he proceeded to Calcutta 
to see the governor general. Attar Singh Sandhawalia followed 
him into British territory. 

Sher Singh occupied the fort and was invested with the title 
of the maharajah of the Punjab. 29 Dhian Singh Dogra was 
proclaimed chief minister. 

Sher Singh's rule began badly. He was unable to redeem his 
promise to the troops, who continued looting the bazaars. 
Soldiers went berserk, murdering regimental accountants and 
officers whom they suspected of having embezzled their wages 
or having dealings with the English. Sher Singh and Dhian Singh 
Dogra invited two men each from every company, troop, and gun 
to the palace and heard their grievances. They agreed to dismiss 
corrupt accountants but refused to agree to the pances' demand 
to transfer officers they did not like; the meeting became stormy. 
The weak-willed Sher Singh threw up his hands with the remark, 
kaca pakkd sambhalo (literally, 'raw or ripe, it's yours'), which 
gave the pahces to understand that they were free to settle things 
for themselves. 30 

Maharajah Sher Singh belied the hopes of his many admirers. 
With the army in open mutiny, the best he could do was to plead 
with the men to be reasonable and give them whatever money 
he had: in the first six months of his rule he parted with nearly 
95 lacs of rupees to the soldiers. Even this did not appease the 
men, who threatened to depose him. Instead of facing them 
resolutely, Sher Singh sought escape in the cup, the company of 

29 The formal tilak ceremony was performed on 27 January 1841, by 
Bikram Singh Bedi of Una. Pratap Singh was proclaimed as the heir- 
apparent. SC 95 of 8.2.1841. 

30 Carmichael Smyth, History of the Reigning Family of Lahore, p. 87. 
Two Europeans, Colonel Foulkes and Major Ford, were shot dead; Court 
barely escaped with his life; Ventura's house had to be guarded; Avitabile 
asked the British agent in Peshawar to help him escape to Europe; Colonel 
Meehan Singh, the governor of Kashmir, and Sobha Singh, garrison com- 
mander of Amritsar, were murdered; Jemadar Khushal Singh, his nephew 
Tej Singh, and Lehna Singh Majithia had to barricade themselves in their 

The Punjab 


courtesans — and the Mai. 31 What the Punjab had prayed for was 
a dictator. What it got was a handsome and well-meaning dandy 
who knew more about French wines and perfumes than he did 
about statecraft. 

The attitude of the British government towards Sher Singh's 
succession was somewhat ambivalent. The governor general 
recognized him as ruler of the Punjab but at the same time gave 
asylum to Ajit Singh Sandhawalia 32 and did nothing to prevent 
him from raising troops to invade the Punjab. 

Sordid tales of the goings on in the palace destroyed whatever 
respect the people retained for the Durbar. The British added 
to its discomfiture by refusing to accord it the respect due to 
a sovereign state. The most flagrant case was the abuse of 
hospitality by Major Broadfoot. Broadfoot was permitted to escort 
the seraglios of Shah Zaman and Shah Shuja across the Punjab 
to Afghanistan and was provided with an escoit of Mussalman 
troops. The major's attitude was aggressive from the very start, 
and on more than one occasion he ordered his men to open fire 
on the Punjabis Avho happened to come near his party. The 
Durbar suffered this kind of behaviour — and worse. When 
Broadfoot had crossed the Indus, he called on the Pathan tribes- 
men to revolt against the Durbar. 33 

31 On 24 January 1841, an old chief made the suggestion in open durbar 
that Sher Singh should take his brother's widow under his protection (cadar 
andazt) by marrying her. SC 97 of 8.3.1841. 

Chand Kaur met a tragic end; she was murdered by her maidservants 
on the night of 11 June 1842. The culprits were apprehended but before 
they could divulge the motives of their crime, their tongues were cut off and 
they were executed by the order of Dhian Singh Dogra. This has led 
historians such as P'rem Singh to point the accusing fmger towards the 
Dogra {Maharajah Sher Singh, pp. 163-70). Cunningham accuses Sher 
Singh of the crime (p. 261) . The murder is referred to by Clerk in his letter 
to his government dated 15 June 1842. 

32 SC 89 of 8.2.1841. 

33 4 lt did not appear that his ( Broadfoot' s) apprehension had even a 
plausible foundation.... The whole proceeding merely served to irritate 
and excite the distrust of the Sikhs generally, and to give Sher Singh an 
opportunity of pointing out to his mutineer soldiers that the Punjab was 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The Broadfoot episode, following many cases of betrayal of 
national interest by courtiers, noblemen, and officers, forced the 
men of the Punjab army to make their own voice heard in matters 
of state. The only institution with which they were familiar was 
the pancayat — the council of elders — which regulated the affairs 
of the villages from which they came. This institution had been 
introduced in the army, and each regiment had begun to elect 
its own parices, whose duty was to deliberate on the orders of the 
commanding officer and then to make their recommendations 
to the men. In the army, the pancayats did not develop into a 
proper administrative system, and much depended on the ability 
of the elected men. In order to maintain their influence the 
pances often pressed for concessions and increases in wages 
which were unreasonable. Some senior paiices became powerful 

surrounded by English armies both ready and willing to make war upon 
them/ Capt. J. D. Cunningham, History of the Sikhs (1st edition, p. 245). 

The following lines from a personal letter written by Mrs Henry 
Lawrence on 26 May 1841 (when the Punjab armies were helping the 
British), is indicative of the British frame of mind: 'Wars, rumours of war, 
are on every side and there seems no doubt that the next cold weather will 
decide the long suspended question of occupying the Punjab: Henry, both in his 
civil and military capacity, will probably be called to take part in whatever 
goes on.' (Emphasis added.) 

Lord Ellenborough's letter to the Duke of Wellington dated 15 October 
1841, is equally revealing. 'I have requested Lord Fitzroy to appoint him 
[Lieutenant Durand] at once in obtaining all information he can with respect 
to the Punjab and making a memorandum upon the country for your 
consideration. I am most anxious to have your opinion as to the general 
principles upon which a campaign against the country should be con- 
ducted.' He followed Durand's memo with another letter dated 26 October 
stating, 'At present about 12,000 men are collected at Ferozepur to watch 
the Sikhs and act if necessary.' 

'What I desired therefore was your opinion founded as far as it could 
be upon imperfect geographical information which could be given to you, 
as to the best mode of attacking the Punjab.' Ganda Singh, Private Correspon- 
dence relating to the Anglo-Sikh Wars, p. 47. 

English papers published in India made frequent allusions to the 
designs of the British government against the Punjab. Maharajah Sher 
Singh protested about them to Maddock, who led a British mission to the 
Durbar. SC 5 of 15.1.1843. 

The Punjab 


enough to be able to auction posts of officers; they appointed 
deputies (kar pances) to convey their decisions to the troops and 
ensure their acceptance. The results were disastrous. The army 
lost its discipline as well as direction by officers who had greater 
experience in military affairs. 

While the Durbar at Lahore was preoccupied with pacifying 
its mutinous soldiery and helping the British out of their predica- 
ment in Afghanistan, the Dogras began the second phase of the 
conquest of Tibet. 

There were economic reasons for extending the frontiers of 
Jammu and the valley of the Jhelum (which Gulab Singh Dogra 
had occupied on the murder of its governor) beyond the 
Himalayas. Since the British had extended their frontiers to the 
Sutlej, Tibetan caravans which had passed through Kashmir 
began instead to go through Bushair. The Kashmiri shawl 
makers, who obtained much of their raw wool from Ladakh and 
Lhasa, suffered most. There was danger of the Kashmir wool 
industry dying out. Besides this, Rohtak district of the province 
of Garo was reputed to be rich in gold, borax, sulphur, and rock 
salt, and had a thriving market which supplied many parts of 
Central Asia. There were complementary political reasons for 
the expansion. By striking out north and then eastwards, the 
Punjab could establish a common frontier with the only other 
independent state of India, Nepal, and thus guard itself against 
the possibility of British encirclement. 

Zorawar Singh Dogra had taken Ladakh in 1834 and then 
driven the wedge a little farther by capturing Iskardu, on the 
junction of two tributaries of the Indus. Another approach route 
to these mountainous regions had been opened up by the 
occupation of Mandi and Kulu. The Dogra general decided to 
press these points further; one northwards and the other east- 
wards towards the Nepalese frontier. 

It was not difficult to find an excuse for aggression. In April 
1841, Zorawar Singh demanded Garo's adhesion to the Punjab 
on the grounds that Garo was a dependency of Iskardu and 
Iskardu was now a province of the Punjab. In view of the changed 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

circumstances he also desired that Lhasa should pay tribute 
to Lahore rather than to Peking. Zorawar Singh marched to 
Garo while another column proceeded eastwards along the 
Kumaon hills and cut off British contact with Lhasa. In June 
1841 the Dogras captured Garo. Zorawar Singh thought it politic 
to send information of the fact to the raja of Bushair, who was 
under British protection. From Garo, the Dogras marched for- 
ward towards Tuklakote. A Tibetan force sent to oppose them 
was annihilated, and a few days later the Durbar's flag was 
hoisted at Tuklakote. The Dogras had pierced the heart of 
Tibet to its very core. By the time they were able to consolidate 
their new conquests, the campaigning season in the mountains 
was over. 

This brilliant feat of arms alarmed the British, 34 and their 
agent demanded that the Durbar give up its new conquests. 35 
While the verbal warfare was going on between Ludhiana and 
Lahore, the Chinese mustered their armies. With the first fall 
of snow they encircled the Dogra advanced posts, cut off their 
supply lines, and waited patiently for the elements to do the rest. 

The Dogras were reduced to desperate straits. They were 
marooned at a height of 12,000 feet in the midst of a vast sea 
of drifting snow and ice. They ran out of food and fuel, and 
soldiers began to die of frostbite. Zorawar Singh offered to 
withdraw, but the Chinese were unwilling to let a trapped bird 
slip out of their grasp. 'You seized Ladakh and we remained 
silent. You became bold in consequence and took possession of 
Gartok and Tuklakote. If you desire peace, give up Ladakh and 
go back to your own country,' was the Chinese reply. 36 

34 SC 71 of 18.10.1841. 

35 The tension over Punjabi expansion across the Himalayas did not 
vitiate other relations between the Durbar and the British. On the request 
of the British government, the Durbar took steps to regulate duties on 
merchandise passing to and from British India to the Punjab. The duties 
on goods entering the Punjab were fixed at reduced rates chargeable at 
one place. This step had no little effect in promoting commercial traffic 
between the Punjab and its neighbouring countries. 

36 SC 59 of 6.12.1841. 

The Punjab 


The Dogras were compelled to fight their way out. Hunger and 
cold had sapped their vitality, and they had to contend with an 
enemy who not only outnumbered them by ten to one but was also 
equipped for winter warfare. On 12 December 1841, fell the 
gallant Zorawar Singh. The rest of the band laid down arms and 
were butchered in cold blood. Tuklakote was abandoned. Before 
the spring thaw, the Chinese reoccupied their Tibetan posses- 
sions and reinstated their satellites at Iskardu and Ladakh. Only 
at Leh did the Punjab flag still flutter defiantly in the Tibetan 

Gulab Singh Dogra rushed reinforcements to Ladakh. By the 
spring of 1842 Dogra troops reached Leh and pushed forward 
to recapture Ladakh. The advance continued in the form of a 
pincer movement towards Garo. One column reached the bound- 
ary of the district in August 1842 but was dissuaded from 
proceeding further by a British officer, Lieutenant Cunningham, 
who happened to be there. The other column decimated a 
Chinese force sent against it from Lhasa. 

On 17 October 1842, the Durbar agent and Gulab Singh's 
personal representative signed a treaty with the representatives 
of the Chinese emperor at Lhasa. It was agreed that the 
boundaries of Ladakh and Lhasa would be considered inviolable 
by both parties and that the trade, particularly of tea and 
pasmina wool, would, as in the past, pass through Ladakh. 37 

The British were prevented from taking active steps to check 
the Dogra incursion into Tibet by a sudden turn of events in 
Afghanistan. In the autumn of 1841, the Afghans rose and 
destroyed the British army of occupation. Among those who were 

37 The British took the earliest opportunity to undo the Treaty of 
Ladakh. When they sold Kashmir to Gulab Singh in 1846, Captain A. 
Cunningham, who was sent to settle the northern and eastern boundary of 
Gulab Singh's domains, had it conveyed to the Chinese and Tibetan 
merchants that their goods could enter British territories without having 
to pay duty. Lord Hardinge followed this up with a note to Lhasa informing 
the Chinese of British suzerainty Over Kashmir and suggesting that the old 
treaty be amended to the effect that trade would not be restricted to the 
Ladakh route. The Treaty of Lhasa of 1842 was consequently redrafted in 
August 1846 as desired by the British. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

murdered was Sir Alexander Burnes — the chief architect of 
British expansionism in Sindh, the Punjab, and Afghanistan. The 
attempt to reinstate Shah Shuja on the throne of Kabul had been 
a joint Punjabi-British venture, and consequently the disaster 
which overwhelmed British arms at Kabul could not be over- 
looked by the Durbar. General Avitabile was ordered to go to the 
relief of the British. 38 The Punjabis recaptured Ali Masjid but 
were unable to hold it as the winter set in. As soon as the passes 
were cleared of snow they resumed their offensive and, with a 
British contingent, once again occupied Ali Masjid in the spring 
of 1842. 39 The Durbar arranged for the supply of grain, cattle, 
and other provisions to British troops and dispatched its own 
force, which was larger than the British, to Afghanistan. The 
Punjabis relieved Jalalabad and helped to re-establish British 
power in Afghanistan. Fortunately for the British, Shah Shuja 
died (or was killed). They decided to scrap the Tripartite Treaty 
and make terms with Dost Mohammed. The Amir was released 
from detention to be sent back to Kabul. 

The British behaviour in the Afghan campaign soured Sher 
Singh. He saw how they had used the Punjab as a stepping stone 

38 The British were surprised at the Punjabis' willing cooperation, as 
their advisers — Wade, Clerk, and Shahamat Ali — had told them that no 
faith should be placed in the Punjabis' professions of friendship (see 
Calcutta Review, hi, 182). 

In a letter dated 11 April 1842, Henry Lawrence wrote: The Sikhs were 
only bound to employ a contingent of 6000 men, but they did the work with 
no less than 15,000, leaving the stipulated number in position, and 
withdrawing the rest tojamrood and Peshawar, where they remain ready 
to support those in the Pass if necessary.' Edwardes and Merivale, The Life 
of Henry Launence, i, 363. 

39 The governor general, Lord Ellenbo rough, in an official notification 
of 19 April expressed his entire satisfaction with the conduct of the troops 
of Maharajah Sher Singh. He informed the army 'that the loss sustained 
by the Sikhs in the assault of the Pass which was forced by them is 
understood to have been equal to that sustained by the troops of Her 
Majesty to the Government of India.' Ellenborough instructed his agent at 
Lahore to offer his congratulations on this occasion 'so honourable to the 
Sikh Army'. Ganda Singh, Private Correspondence relating to the Anglo-Sikh 
Wars, p. 42. 

The Punjab 


to reach Afghanistan, and, having done so, scrapped the treaty 
without considering the Durbar's interests. 40 And soon after the 
debacle in Afghanistan, the British committed unprovoked ag- 
gression against Sindh. Without even waiting for an excuse, Sir 
Charles Napier occupied the province in March 1843. 41 What 
guarantee was there that the British would not act in the same 
way towards the Punjab? 

Relations between the Durbar and the British cooled visibly. 
Sher Singh continued to keep up appearances of friendship but 
stopped playing second fiddle to the British. He gave Dost 
Mohammed, who had crossed swords with the Punjabis in 
innumerable battles, a great reception when he passed through 
Lahore on his way to Kabul. The Durbar signed a separate treaty 
recognizing him as the Amir of Afghanistan. 

The British sensed that they had through their own maladz oit- 
ness lost the confidence of Sher Singh. They also felt that as long 
as Dhian Singh Dogra remained the chief minister there was 
little chance of the Durbar changing its attitude towards them. 
Persisting in their pretensions of friendship, they asked Sher 
Singh to allow the Sandhawalia Sardars, known to be inimical 
towards Dhian Singh Dogra, to return to the Punjab and have 
their estates restored to them. 42 The maharajah, who had begun 

40 In the winter of 1842, Lord Ellenborough expressed a desire to meet 
Sher Singh and thank him personally for the part played by the Punjabis 
in the Afghan campaigns. Sher Singh, who had at first agreed to the 
meeting, finally excused himself on the flimsy ground of protocol. The 
governor general had to content himself with shaking hands with Sher 
Singh's son, the eleven-year-old Pratap Singh, and Dhian Singh Dogra. 

41 'The real cause of the chastisement of the Amirs,' says Kaye, 
'consisted in the chastisement which the British had received from the 
Afghans. It was deemed expedient at the stage of the great political journey 
to show that the British could beat someone, and so it was determined to 
beat the Amirs of Sindh'. Calcutta Review, i, 232. 

42 In April 1842, when Clerk met Sher Singh, the maharajah told the 
British agent that, if the Sandhawalias occupied any of the Durbar's 
possessions across the Sutlej (Kot Kapura, Akalgarh, Naraingarh or 
Whadni), passage should be given to his troops to seize them and 'rip open 
their bellies'. SC 134 of 29.6.1842. Six months later, the same Sher Singh 
was persuaded by Clerk to welcome back the Sandhawalias. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

to chafe under Dhian Singh's domination, accepted the British 
suggestion. In November 1842, Ajit Singh Sandhawalia arrived 
at Lahore and was received with open arms by the simple- 
minded Sher Singh. Other members of the family were also 
reinstated in their possessions. As was perhaps anticipated, the 
Sandhawalias became the pro-British, anti-Dogra party in the 

Dhian Singh Dogra proved to be too strongly entrenched to 
be removed at the whims of princes or courtiers. The 
Sandhawalias were compelled to resort to violence — and, in the 
process, to make a clean sweep of the set-up at Lahore. Whether 
they acted on their own initiative or on the assurance of support 
from the British will never be known for in the holocaust that 
followed all the evidence was drowned in blood. 

On 15 September 1843, the first of the month of Asuj by the 
Hindu calendar, it was arranged that Sher Singh would take the 
salute at a march past and inspect the troops of Ajit Singh 
Sandhawalia. Sher Singh took his elder son, Pratap Singh, with 
him and left the child to amuse himself in a nearby garden. After 
the march past, the Sandhawalia came up to the platform where 
the maharajah was seated to present a double-barrelled gun of 
English manufacture which he had brought with him from 
Calcutta. As the maharajah stretched out his hands to receive 
the weapon, Ajit Singh pressed the trigger. 'Eh kl dagha — what 
treachery is this!' cried the unfortunate maharajah before he 
collapsed. The Sandhawalia's men fell upon Sher Singh's es- 
cort; Ajit Singh hacked off the maharajah's head and mounted 
it on his spear. At the same time Ajit's uncle seized Pratap Singh 
and severed the boy's neck. He too impaled his victim's head 
on \\is spear and joined his nephew. The regicides rode to the 
city flaunting their trophies. For reasons still unknown, they were 
admitted into the fort. They sent invitations to the Dogras — 
Dhian Singh, Hira Singh, and Suchet Singh — to join them. Dhian 
Singh fell into the trap and came to the fort with a very small 
escort. He was killed and his bodyguard of 25 was hacked to 
pieces. When Suchet Singh and Hira Singh, who were encamped 
a couple of miles outside the city, received news of Dhian Singh's 

The Punjab 


murder, they immediately sought refuge in the cantonment and 
appealed to the Khalsa army to avenge the murders. 

The Sandhawalias occupied the fort and the palace in the 
belief that they would now rule the Punjab. They had reckoned 
without the people. 

News of the dastardly crimes sent a wave of horror through 
Lahore. The army paiices resolved to take the city under their 
protection and to punish the malefactors, and they chose as their 
leader Hira Singh, the son of Dhian Singh Dogra. The fort was 
surrounded. All through the night artillery blasted the ramparts. 
Next morning Ni hangs stormed in through the breaches and 
captured the citadel. The assassins and 600 of their troops were 
put to the sword. But Attar Singh Sandhawalia remained. He 
received the news of the capture of Lahore by the army and fled 
across the Sutlej, where he was given asylum by the British. 43 
Ranjit Singh's youngest son, Dalip Singh, was proclaimed 
maharajah with Hira Singh Dogra as his chief minister. Real 
power, however, had passed from the palace to the cantonment. 

The Punjab Under the Dogras 

The blood bath left the Durbar in a state of exhaustion without 
lancing it of its malignant factionalism. There was a realignment 
of courtiers behind the claimants to the throne and the post of 

43 The blood bath of 15 and 16 September 1843, must have been 
foreseen by the British. Lord Ellenborough wrote to the Duke of Wellington 
on 2 August 1843 (after the Sandhawalias had been in Calcutta for some 
time), 'The affairs of the Punjab will receive their denouement from the 
death of Sher Singh.' At the time Sher Singh was a young man and in the 
best of health. 

A very detailed report on the different factions in the Durbar was 
submitted by Richmond on 5 September 1843. The following lines dealing 
with the rapprochement between Dhian Singh Dogra and Sher Singh are 
significant: 'The union is but seeming and a few moments under the 
excitement of passion and of wine may cause an irreparable breach which 
may end in the death of Sher Singh.' SC 455 of 23.3.1844. 

The Anglo-Indian press of Calcutta admitted that although there was 
no proof of the British government being directly concerned in the murder 
of Sher Singh, it did 'smell a rat*. Friend of India, December 1843. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

chief minister. Maharajah Dalip Singh had two stepbrothers, 
Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh, both older than he and 
anxious to press their claims to the throne; both had private 
armies of their own. And although Hira Singh Dogra had been 
named as the chief vazir, his appointment was not unquestioned. 
Since the maharajah was only seven years old, his mother, the 
youthful and comely Jindan, 44 assumed the role of queen mother 
and introduced her brother, Jawahar Singh, into the council as 
a sort of guardian-cum-adviser. Besides these two, Suchet Singh 
Dogra felt that he had a stronger claim to be chief vazir than 
his nephew, Hira Singh. Gulab Singh Dogra 45 supported Suchet 

The relations between the Dogras were further acerbated by 
the presence of a Brahmin priest, Jalla, who had been compan- 
ion-tutor to Hira Singh Dogra since the latter's childhood. Jalla 
was an extremely arrogant man of peevish disposition and soon 
came to be disliked by everyone; Gulab Singh Dogra and Suchet 
Singh loathed him more than anyone else. 

Palace intrigues consumed the energies of the court and the 
council, leaving them little time to attend to the day-to-day 
business of administration. The British felt that they might be 
called upon to intervene to restore order and began to move 
troops up to the Sutlej. These troop movements worsened the 
situation in the Punjab. Many Sardars opened negotiations with 
the British to have their jagirs confirmed. The danger of external 
aggression and internal dissension made the army 46 the most 
powerful element in the state. 47 The legend of Khalsa invincibility 

44 Jindan was the daughter of an officer in charge of the royal kennels. 
She was married to Ranjit Singh in 1835. Dalip Singh was born in 
September 1837. 

45 Suchet Singh Dogra had no son of his own. Gulab Singh persuaded 
him to adopt his youngest son, Ranbir Singh (also known as Mian Pheenoo) . 
This gave Gulab Singh and his sons a vested interest in the fortunes of 
Suchet Singh. 

46 At the time it numbered 69,500 infantry, 27,575 cavalry, 4130 
artillerymen as on 1 October 1843. SC 521 of 23.3.1844. 

47 Richmond's report of 13 February 1844, states: 'With regard to the 
state of feeling in the army, I may observe that every regiment and every 

The Punjab 


was revived. A man who came to the fore now was one Bhai Bir 
Singh, 48 a retired soldier turned ascetic who had set up his own 
gurdwara at village Naurangabad on the Sutlej. In times of 
national crisis, Sikh soldiers and peasantry began to turn to Bhai 
Bir Singh for guidance. Attending the bhai was a volunteer army 
of 1200 musket men and 3,000 horsemen. Over 1500 pilgrims 
were fed in his kitchen every day. 

Hira Singh Dogra tackled the problems facing him with great 
energy. He dismissed European officers known to be intriguing 
with the British and sent spies to ascertain details of the military 
preparations which were being made across the Sutlej. 49 In open 
court he asked the British vakil — pleader — to explain why his 

body of men, save a few Gurkhas, Afghans and Hindustanis, have virtually 
thrown aside their obedience to the state and to their officers. The habit 
of discipline, a sense of self-interest and a vague feeling of deference to 
the 'Khalsa* keep them united as an armed body for the present.' SC 562 
of 23.3.1844. 

'We have now to deal with the temporary government of one able man, 
Raja Gulab Singh, with a large army overbearing and disorganised but 
never yet beaten; and with the Sikh people without a present leader, but 
victorious on every side, and capable of any exertion, if their spirit is 
properly called forth in the support of the mystic Khalsa.' Richmond, 26 
September 1843. SC 487 of 23.3.1844. 

48 Bir Singh (d.1844) came from tehsil Tarn Taran. 

49 Panjab Akhbar, 1 January 1844. Durbar agents succeeded in tamper- 
ing with the loyalty of British Indian troops on the Sutlej; throughout the 
winter of 1843-4 there were mutinies of native sepoys in Sindh and on the 
Sutlej. In Sindh they were occasioned by the reduction in the pay of the 
troops (after its annexation, Sindh ceased to be a 'foreign station' for the 
British). On the Sutlej, particularly at Ferozepur, they were the result of 
the disparity between the pay given by the Company — 8V2 rupees per 
month — and that received by the Durbar* s troops which was V2}h rupees 
per month. 

Lord Ellenborough was very alarmed at the outbreaks and considered 
success by the Khalsa in inducing mutiny 'more dangerous than would be 
its declared hostility'. In another letter written early in 1844, the governor 
general wrote to the Duke of Wellington 'of the great magnitude of the 
operations on which we should embark, if we ever should cross the Sutlej. 
I know it would be of a protracted character'. Colchester, History of the 
Indian Administration of Lord Ellenborough, p. 425. 

30 Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

government was fortifying Ferozepur and why it had given asylum 
to Attar Singh Sandhawalia, who was known to have been 
associated with the murders of the previous maharajah and the 
chief minister and who was inimical to the present regime. The 
vakil protested the goodwill of the British and said he would 
convey the Durbar's fears to his government. 50 Hira Singh was 
not satisfied with the explanation and ordered the garrisoning 
of Kasur (facing Ferozepur) and the strengthening of the de- 
fences of Phillaur. 

Movements of troops on either side of the frontier spread 
uneasiness among the people. The rich began to send their 
money and jewelleiy to British India, and many families of 
noblemen fled the Punjab on the pretext of making pilgrimages. 

Princes Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh took advantage 
of the state of unrest and proclaimed their right to the throne. 
Hira Singh asked his uncle, Gulab Singh Dogra, to proceed 
against the recalcitrant princes at Sialkot. Gulab Singh under- 
took the expedition with alacrity. (Sialkot adjoined his territory 
and could be annexed by him.) 

The princes put up stout resistance. After they were ejected 
from Sialkot, they toured through Majha and then joined Bhai Bir 
Singh at Naurangabad. They whipped up anti-Dogra feeling in 
the army by pointing out that Hira Singh Dogra had virtually 
usurped the throne. The parices called on the chief minister and 
demanded, among other things, that Dalip Singh be formally 
installed as maharajah; Peshaura Singh and Kashmira Singh 
have their estates restored to them; and Dogra contingents that 
had been brought to Lahore be ordered to return to the hills. 
Hira Singh Dogra accepted the demands. Dalip Singh was 
seated on the throne and his uncle Jawahar Singh, who was under 
detention, was released; Kashmira Singh (who had recovered 

The mutinies at Ferozepur were the subject of dispute between the 
governor general and the commander-in-chief, in consequence of which Sir 
Robert Dick was removed from the command on the Sutlej frontier and 
Major General Walter Gilbert posted in his place. Rait, Life and Campaigns 
of Viscount Gough, i, 351-2. 

50 Panjab Akhbar, 19 February 1844. 

The Punjab 


Sialkot) and Peshaura Singh were received at Lahore and their 
pensions were guaranteed. 

The next to challenge Hira Singh's stewardship was his uncle, 
Suchet Singh Dogra, who stood high in the favour of Ranijindan. 
Suchet Singh arrived, at Lahore and demanded the dismissal 
of both Hira Singh and Pandit Jalla. The army paricayat decided 
to remain loyal to the chief minister. Suchet Singh fled from 
Lahore. A column sent in pursuit overtook him and slew him and 
his escort. 

Hira Singh Dogra was not destined to rule in peace. He had 
hardly finished with his uncle when another danger menaced 
his position. Attar Singh Sandhawalia, whose hostile activities 
in British India had been the subject of many protests, crossed 
the Sutlej into Durbar territory and joined Bhai Bir Singh at 
Naurangabad. 51 Princes Kashmira Singh and Peshaura Singh 
also left their estates for Naurangabad; Bhai Bir Singh's camp 
became the centre of the Sikh revolt against Dogra dominance 
over the Punjab. 

Attar Singh was a formidable foe. He was a kinsman of Ranjit 
Singh and had served him with distinction. He was considered 
one of the bravest generals and, in the last few years of Ranjit 
Singh's life, had become the most powerful of all the Sikh 
sardars. The British supported him, and even the sons of the late 
maharajah were willing to acknowledge his claims. 

Hira Singh Dogra harangued the soldiers, reminding them 
that the Sandhawalia had been responsible for the murders of 
Maharajah Sher Singh, Prince Pratap Singh, and his (Hira 
Singh's) father Dhian Singh Dogra; that the Sandhawalia had 

51 Intelligence Report, 4 May 1844. Ellenborough's letter to Queen Victoria 
dated 10 June 1844, states: 'It is much to be regretted that Uttur Singh 
should have been permitted to move from Thanesir to the Sutlej with the 
known object of acting against the Lahore Government. This error of the 
British agent renders it impossible to protect against the violation of the 
strict letter of the treaty which was committed by the Sikhs, whose troops 
were sent to the left bank to intercept Uttur Singh; and, under all the 
circumstances it has been deemed expedient to make no representation 
upon the subject but to allow the whole matter to be forgotten.' Colchester, 
History of the Indian Administration of Lord Ellenborough, p. 129. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

been with the English for the last six months and had promised 
to give the British six annas out of each rupee collected in 
revenue if his venture succeeded; that Suchet Singh Dogra's 
widow had financed the revolt with the money her husband had 
invested in British India; and that Bhai Bir Singh and the princes 
had unwittingly become tools in the hands of traitors. The army 
pances agreed to side with Hira Singh Dogra, and the Durbar 
troops marched out to Naurangabad. 

Bhai Bir Singh tried to bring about a settlement. Whilst the 
negotiations were going on, the impetuous Sandhawalia lost 
patience and killed one of the Durbar's emissaries. Durbar artil- 
lery blasted the Bhai's camp, killing several hundred men includ- 
ing Attar Singh, Prince Kashmira Singh, 52 and Bhai Bir Singh. 

The troops, though victorious, were filled with remorse. They 
had soiled their hands with the blood of Maharajah Ranjit 
Singh's family and of a man looked upon as a guru. They turned 
their wrath against the Dogras. Hira Singh Dogra assuaged their 
feelings by making offerings in the memory of Bhai Bir Singh 
and announcing that he might accept conversion to Sikhism. 53 
What really saved Hira Singh Dogra was a fresh wave of rumours 
that the British were ready to invade the Punjab 54 and a small 
scale rebellion in the state. 55 

52 Prince Peshaura Singh had meanwhile left the bhai's camp and 
made his submission to the Durbar. He later crossed the Sutlej and was 
given asylum by the British. 

53 Punjab Intelligence of 14 May 1844, reported that 'Raja Hira Singh 
endeavours to keep the soldiers in good humour and promises them much, 
giving them at the same time presents and honours. The Sikh soldiers took 
the gifts but said, "We killed our guru and we got two rupees, what sort of 
men are we?'" 

54 The newswriter from Kasauli reported that large quantities of am- 
munition had been forwarded to Ludhiana and Ferozepur; reports from 
Ferozepur said that zamindars had been advised not to sow an autumn crop 
as a very large army was to assemble there; stocking of war material in the 
cantonments and examination of fords on the Sutlej was also reported. H. R. 
Gupta, Punjab on the Eve of First Sikh War, pp. 80, 198, 201, 206, 208, 219. 

55 Fateh Khan Tiwana rebelled in the south; Gulab Singh Dogra refused 
to send in revenue and incited the frontier tribesmen to plunder Peshawar. 
Mulraj, governor of Multan, was sent against Fateh Khan. In an action 

The Punjab 


In July 1844, Lord Hardinge, a soldier of great repute re- 
placed Lord Ellenborough as governor general. This appoint- 
ment caused nervousness in Durbar circles. 56 Consequently, 
when in October the commander-in-chief of the East India 
Company's forces in India came up to inspect troops at Ludhiana 
and Ferozepmvthe Punjab army was alerted against a possible 
invasion; frontier outposts on the river were quickly garrisoned 
and a twenty-four-hour watch kept on fords and ferries. The 
tension lasted several weeks. 

The final crisis in Hira Singh Dogra's short career was pre- 
cipitated by Jalla. The Brahmin priest, no puritan himself, cast 
scandalous aspersions on Rani Jindan's character. ' 7 The rani 
and her brother, Jawahar Singh, appealed to the army parices, 
who acclaimed Jindan and her son, and swore to drive Hira 
Singh Dogra and Jalla out of the Punjab. 

Hira Singh Dogra turned to his uncle for help. Gulab Singh 
hurried down from Jammu with 7000 Dogras. The news of the 
descent of the hillmen incensed the Khalsa soldiers, who de- 
cided to arrest the chief minister and his priest. Hira Singh and 
Jalla took an escort of Dogras and fled the capital. 

fought at Mitha Tiwana, about 900 men were killed on both sides. Fateh 
Khan lost his son and was compelled to submit. Gulab Singh's defiance 
subsided when Durb ar troops were ordered to Jammu. He sent his son as 
hostage to Lahore. 

56 When the news was read out in the court, Jalla remarked: 'Lord 
Auckland had invaded Afghanistan and his successor, Lord Ellenborough, 
had invaded Sindh and Gwalior, and now the new lord was no doubt willing 
to invade the Punjab.' Punjab Intelligence, 23 June 1844. The remark, was 
no doubt occasioned by the information sent a few days earlier that the 
governor general's council at Calcutta had, at its secret sitting, regretted 
the death of Attar Singh Sandhawalia because, if he had lived, the British 
would have acquired the Punjab without a fight, deserters from the Com- 
pany's forces had augmented fears of invasion by stating that the British 
had planned to cross the Sutlej in September. 

57 Rani Jindan, whose name was linked with many courtiers, was said 
to have become pregnant through a liaison with Lai Singh. She became 
very ill after an abortion, and it was said in open court that, if she died, 
Lai Singh would be executed. She survived the illness and, through her 
influence, Lai Singh was given the title of raja. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Khalsa troops caught up with the fleeing Dogra and his 
Brahmin mentor. A running fight ensued in which over 1000 
Dogras were killed. Hira Singh and Jalla were slain and their 
heads were impaled on spears and paraded through the streets 
of Lahore. 

Hira Singh Dogra had been a man of uncommon talent and 
courage. If circumstances had been different he might well have 
become the first Dogra-Sikh maharajah of the Punjab. But the 
upstart and arrogant Jalla led to his downfall. Jalla' s memory is 
execrated in the doggerel: 

Uper Allah 
Talley Jalla 

JaUey de sir ley khalld 

There is Cod above 
And Jalla below, 

And may He smack Jalla on the head with a shoe. 

Maharani Jindan and Dalip Singh 

For some time after the murders of Hira Singh Dogra and Jalla 
there was no one to conduct the affairs of the Durbar. 58 Gradually 
Maharani Jindan took the functions of the court in her hands. She 
was assisted by her brother Jawahar Singh (who assumed the 
title of vazir), Raja Lai Singh, and her maidservant, Mangla, 59 

58 'The rani with her son and her brother were alone in the fort. The 
rani sent for the bhai, Ram Singh, but he did not obey the summons. She 
sent then for the sardars of the council who had but recently left the Durbar 
but not one would go near her. They declare the kingdom is now in the 
hands of the troops and they must wait to see what they decree.' Broadfoot 
to Currie, 4 January 1845. SC 58 of 4.4.1845. 

59 Mangla was the daughter of a water-carrier of Kangra who was 
employed by Jindan in 1835. After the death of Ranjit Singh she became 
the maharani 's confidante and was rumoured to be the go-between her 
mistress and Lai Singh. She herself became the mistress of Jindan 's 
brother, Jawahar Singh. At the time in question, she was 30 years of age. 
The relationships of Jindan with Lai Singh and of Mangla with Jawahar 
Singh were subjects of much scandal. 

The Punjab 


who, because the maharani was in purdah, acted as an inter- 
mediary for her mistress. Jindan's first task was to win over 
the army. In this she had to contend with Prince Peshaura 
Singh. 60 Jindan completely outbid Peshaura Singh and for some 
time was assured of military support for her son, Maharajah 
Dalip Singh. 61 

Gulab Singh Dogra utilized the dissension at Lahore to set 
himself up as an independent ruler in Jammu. He opened 
negotiations with the Barakzai Afghans and the British; he began 
to strengthen his forts and to inflame the hill people against 
the Sikhs. The mountaineers are united against the Seikhs; 
they regard the war as one of religion,' he is reported to have 
said. 6 ^ 

In February 1845 Durbar troops which had been posted along 
the Sutlej to meet a possible British invasion were directed to 
Jammu. Gulab Singh Dogra submitted. He handed over 4 lac 
rupees as tribute, feted the Khalsa army, and sent it back on the 
road to Lahore loaded with gifts. The Khalsa had not gone very 
far from Jammu when they were ambushed by the Dogras and 
relieved of all the tribute. They returned to Jammu and inflicted 

60 Broadfoot in a letter to Currie dated 5 January 1845, reports that 'the 
camps of the troops were a scene of commotion, the men declaring that 
they would have no ruler but Peshora Singh, who would increase their pay 
and under whom they would conquer Jasrota and Jammu. They declared 
that the rani and her brother were unfit to govern, and that the sardars 
of the council and their officers did nothing but get jagirs themselves, while 
they (the private soldiers) were resolved to have no ruler who did not 
increase their pay.' SC 61 of 4.4.1845. 

61 'Diwan Deena Nath stated that including 25 lacs of rupees remitted 
in the first days of joy and generosity the extra expenditure amounts in 
fifteen days to a crore of rupees, of which three quarters have gone to the 
regular army. This is an exaggeration so far as the troops are concerned, 
but it is no doubt true as to the treasury, for the mootusudees having now 
to deal only with the inexperienced rani and the ignorant soldiery call the 
expenditure what they please, and embezzle the difference between that 
and the real disbursements. The troops know, and speak of this, and one 
day purpose to recover these sums for themselves.' Broadfoot to Currie, 
7 January 1845. SC 68 of 4,4.1845. 

62 SC 68 of 4.4.1845. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

several defeats on the Dogras. Gulab Singh again capitulated. 
He came to the Sikh camp, 'placed his sword and shield on the 
ground... and stood with his hands joined as a suppliant,* 63 and 
protested his loyalty. The credulous pances were again brought 
round by gold and words of flattery. 64 A treaty of peace was drawn 
up by which Gulab Singh undertook to pay 35 lac rupees, of which 
five had to be paid immediately, 65 and to accompany the army 
to Lahore. 

The Dogra displayed great presence of mind and a Machia- 
vellian adroitness in extricating himself from a nasty situation. 
He showed calculated indifference to the summons to appear 
before the court, stating that he was the servant of the Khalsa 
army and not of the Durbar and that he would only answer to the 
pances. 66 (He had announced earlier that the monthly wages of 
infantry men should be increased from 12 to 15 rupees per 
mensem.) 67 He joined the faction of Lai Singh and became his 
brother-in-arms by exchanging swords with him. 68 (A few weeks 
later he accused Lai Singh of attempting to assassinate him.) 69 
He was placed under house arrest; but he bought his way out in 
a few days. He was fined 68 lac of rupees; but he got away with 
the payment of only 27 lacs. 70 He let it be known that the Chinese 
had invaded his northern provinces and gained permission to 
return to Jammu. As soon as he was back in his mountain 

63 SC 147 of 4.4.1845. 

64 'In the hills Raja Gulab Singh continues to make in public abject 
professions of submission to the Durbar and of being broken-hearted, and 
desirous only of dying in peace, but he is preparing with unwearied energy 
for war, and is stirring up every enemy to the Sikhs and every ally to himself 
that his messengers can reach. His intrigues also are incessant at the 
Durbar with Peshora Singh, with the army, and on this side of Sutlej, and 
day after day his agents offer and receive fresh terms of submission, which 
are duly discussed by the council/ Broadfoot to Currie, 16 January 1845. 
SC 102 of 4.4.1845. 

65 SC 22 of 20.6.1845. 

66 SC 58 of 20.6.1845. 

67 SC 49 of 20.6.1845. 

68 SC 53 of 20.6.1845. 

69 SC 34 of 15.8.1845. 

70 SC 58 of 20.6.1845. 

The Punjab 


fastness, he reopened negotiations with the British and offered 
them his services in the event of war against the Sikhs, 71 

While the Durbar troops were engaged in Jammu, Prince 
Peshaura Singh returned to the Punjab and set up a rival court 
at Sialkot. This was a signal for lawless elements to rise. Gangs 
of Nihangs roamed about the Majha country and threatened to 
loot Amritsar and Lahore. 72 Rani Jindan tried to win over the 
families of powerful chieftain^ to her son's side against the 
pretensions of Peshaura Singh and to help restore law and order 
in the state. She broke off Dalip Singh's engagement with the 
comparatively poor Nakkais and betrothed him to the daughter 
of Chattar Singh Attariwala. This did not deter Peshaura Singh. 
He captured the foil of Attock, proclaimed himself maharajah, 
and approached the Afghans for help. Chattar Singh Attariwala 
proceeded to Attock. 

Peshaura Singh's attempts to secure help from the Afghans 
and rouse the populace in his favour were not successful. He 
accepted the assurance of personal safety from Chattar Singh 
Attariwala and agreed to accompany him to the capital. Twenty 
miles from Attock, the prince was seized, brought back to the 
fort, and murdered. The parices discovered that the army had 
once again been used by one Durbar faction against another. 
They felt that the murder of Peshaura Singh had been master- 
minded by Rani Jindan's brother, Jawahar Singh, and ordered 
him to appear before the army pancayat. 

On the evening of 21 September 1845, the terrified Jawahar 
Singh clutched the infant Dalip to his bosom and rode out on 
his elephant to answer the summons of the pancayat. Rani Jindan 
and her maidservant Mangla followed with their escort. At the 
cantonment, Jawahar Singh refused to alight from his elephant. 
The guards plucked the maharajah from his lap and speared 

71 Gulab Singh's agent, Sheo Dutt, called on Broadfoot in August 1845 
and had it conveyed that 'he would at once cause the whole of them (the 
hillmen) to revolt against the Sikhs and submit to the British or, if desired, 
he could besides assemble 40,000 troops from the hills, probably 50,000, 
but certainly 40,000 and more and attack the Sikhs.' SC 46 of 25.10.1845. 

72 SC 147 of 4.4.1845. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Jawahar Singh where he sat in the howdah. Next morning the 
minister's corpse was cremated. His four wives, who committed 
sati, died cursing the Khalsa and prophesying that the wives of 
Sikh soldiers would soon be widows and the Punjab laid deso- 
late. Jindan returned to the palace screaming vengeance against 
the army and threatening to immolate herself and her son. 

The army pahcayat took over the affairs of state and became 
the sovereign of the Punjab. It selected Dewan Dina Nath to 
act as its mouthpiece and issued instructions that no letter 
was to be issued to the English till the pahces had deliberated 
on its contents. The pahcayat acted in the name of the Khalsa. 73 
Its orders were issued under the seal Akdl Sahdi — the Lord is 
our helper. 74 

73 For a while the army parices were able to introduce strict discipline 
among the men and to maintain order in the capital. It is curious that in 
this atmosphere of Sikh resurgence many of the leaders of the army council 
were Dogra-Hindus: Mian Prithi Singh, son of Mian Albel Singh; Mian 
Pacchattar Singh, son of Rai Kesri Singh; and Mian Naurang Singh, son 
of Mian Labh Singh. SC 119 of 20.12.1845. It would appear that the Sikh- 
Dogra conflict was largely an upper-class phenomenon. 

74 The British were much exercised by what seemed to them to be a 
change in the form of government. It was noticed that the term Sarbat Khalsa 
had been introduced in the official correspondence of the Durbar since the 
death of Maharajah Sher Singh and as the army council gained power at 
the expense of the palace coterie, expressions like Sarkdr Khdlsafi and 
Khalsa Panth came into vogue. The British agent was instructed to make 
it clear that his government would recognize no other form of government 
save a monarchy and regarded 'the army with its self-constituted paricayats 
in no other light than as the subjects and servants of the government.' SC 
114 of 44.1845. 

2. First AngloSikh War 

British Preparations 

TAT hen did the British decide that the state of anar chy in the 

V V Punjab had come to such a pass that the security of their 
possessions required the strengthening of the Sutlej frontier 
and, if necessary, crossing the river? And when did the Sikhs 
come to the conclusion that the British had resolved to take the 
Punjab as they had taken the rest of India and were moving their 
troops with hostile intent? 

It is not possible to answer these questions with any precision. 
There were Englishmen who believed that it was the destiny 
of their race to rule and civilize the natives; sections of the 
British press publicized these views and wrote of extending the 
Pax Britannica to the furthest geographical borders of the sub- 
continent — and even beyond. The Durbar was not ignorant of 
these views. Reports published in Calcutta newspapers, gists of 
speeches delivered by English officials, and talk in regimental 
messes were transmitted to Lahore. After the death of Ranjit 
Singh, the Punjab campaign had become a common topic of 
discussion in British circles. By the time Sher Singh became 
maharajah, these discussions had crystallized into plans of 
conquest. With the arrival in July 1844 of Lord Hardinge, an 
experienced soldier, the plans were translated into blueprints; 1 

1 Hardinge's policy vis-a-vis the Sikh kingdom underwent a radical 
change. At first he believed in maintaining a strong Sikh state as a buffer 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


men and munitions were moved up to the Punjab frontier to be 
at their allotted places in time for the campaigning season, 
which began in the autumn. 2 In September 1844, Broadfoot, who 
had earned notoriety for his anti-Punjabi behaviour and was 
known to be 'rather too prone to war/ was chosen to replace 
Colonel Richmond as the agent at Ludhiana. 

The army mustered along the Sutlej was, however, not strong 
enough to invade the Punjab, nor was there any semblance of an 
excuse to do so. 3 The invasion project was postponed, but not 
abandoned. The movement of troops towards the frontier was 
maintained. 4 A fleet of sixty flat-bottomed boats, designed to link 

between British India and the Muslim countries beyond the Indus. He 
pursued this policy till the murders of Hira Singh Dogra and Jalla in 
December 1844. Thereafter he was convinced that the Sikhs were inca- 
pable of maintaining; a stable government, and he changed his own policy 
to one of deliberately weakening the Sikhs by strengthening the Dogras in 
the hills and fortifying the Sutlej frontier with a view to annexing the Punjab 
at an opportune moment. 'The government of the Punjab must be Sikh orBritishy 
he wrote to Lord Ripon on 8 January 1845— italicizing the words himself. 

2 'On the northwest frontier, I am in correspondence with Gough to 
get all our troops of horse artillery and bullocks in complete order; and 
we propose to send our companies of Europeans, picked men, to fill up 
vacancies.' Hardinge to Ellenborough, 17 September 1844. Foreign and 
Political Department Records. 

Lord Hardinge brought two sons with him to handle his secret corre- 

3 In a letter dated 23 January 1845, Hardinge apprised Ellenborough 
of the situation. He wrote: 'Even if we had a case for devouring our ally in 
his adversity, we are not ready. . .moderation will do us no harm, if in the 
interval the hills and the plains weaken each other; but on what plea could 
we attack the Punjab if this were the month of October, and we had our 
army in readiness?* The letter continues: 'Self preservation may require 
the dispersion of this Sikh army, the baneful influence of such an example 
is the evil most to be dreaded, but exclusive of this case, how are we to 
justify the seizure of our friend's territory who in adversity assisted us to 
retrieve our affairs?' Ganda Singh, Private Correspondence relating to the 
Anglo-Sikh Wars, p. 72. 

4 'We shall now begin to move up the additional regiments to Ferozepur, 
Ludhiana and Ambala, the barracks, etc. being nearly ready. As the fords 
deepen and the heat increases, these movements will cause no alarm but 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

up into a pontoon bridge and provide passage to 6000 infantry 
at one trip, 5 was assembled on the eastern banks of the Sutlej; 
by the summer of 1845 Broadfoot was exercising these boats 
without 'concealment or mystery'. 6 

By the autumn of 1845, the invasion force — the largest ever 
assembled by the British in India — was poised on the Punjab 
frontier. It had been increased from 17,000 men and 66 guns 
in the time of Ellenborough to over 40,000 men and 94 guns. 7 In 
addition to Ludhiana (which had been the only military outpost 
till 1809), cantonments had been built at Ambala, Ferozepur, 
and in the Simla hills overlooking the Sutlej. In the first week 
of December 1845, Lord Gough personally led units from Meerut 
and Ambala towards Ferozepur, where General Littler awaited 

quietly we will get the troops in their proper place.' Hardinge to Ellenborough, 
8 March 1845. Foreign and Political Department Records. 

5 Charles Hardinge, who was acting secretary to his father, informed 
the agent at Ludhiana of their dispatch. 'They are of equal dimensions, 
each carrying a gun, two grappling irons with strong chains, and 100 men, 
the 60 boats would therefore for a short distance, such as the passage of 
a river, carry 6000 infantry at one trip.' 

The young subaltern offered advice to the seasoned intriguer. 'It is not 
desirable that the purposes to which these boats can be applied should 
unnecessarily transpire/ If questioned by the vakil of the Lahore Durbar, 
Broadfoot was to state that they were to be used to meet the increase of 
mercantile traffic on the Indus. Broadfoot, Career of Major George Broadfoot, 
pp. 283-6. 

6 Ibid., p. 331. 

7 Post 

Strength as Left by 

Strength at First 

Lord Ellenborough 

Breaking Out of War 


4596 men 

10,472 men 

12 guns 

24 guns 


3030 men 

7235 men 

12 guns 

22 guns 


4133 men 

12,972 men 

24 guns 

32 guns 

Total force exclusive of 

hill stations, which 

17,612 men 

40,523 men 

remained the same. 

66 guns 

94 guns 

Reference: Charles Hardinge, Viscount Hardinge, p. 76. 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


him and where the boats had been assembled to bridge the 
Sutlej. Lord Hardinge decided to join Gough to give the benefit 
of his experience to his commander-in-chief. 

Sikh Unpreparedness 

'At Lahore they aire quiet, drinking and intriguing politically and 
amorously 8 wrote Broadfoot in July 1845. A month later he 
reported in somewhat the same vein. 'I sometimes feel as if I 
were a sort of parish constable at the door of a brothel rather 
than the representative of one government to another.' 9 Even 
after making allowances for the British agent's gullibility in 
accepting bazaar gossip as authentic news, one cannot avoid the 
conclusion that while the British were carefully planning for 
war — aggressive or defensive — the Durbar lulled itself into a 
false sense of security and abandoned itself to the delights of 
the flesh. Rani Jindan, Raja Lai Singh, the chief minister, and 
Tej Singh, the commander-in-chief of the Sikh forces, and many 
of the chieftains, both Sikh and Dogra, were in communication 
with the British and willing to sell the Punjab provided their lives 
and jagirs were secured. 10 The courtiers were thoroughly scared 
of the undisciplined soldiery and sought its destruction. British 
troop movements gave them an opportunity to divert the atten- 
tion of the army from their own conduct to the British and so whip 
up the Khalsa's anglophobia. 11 

8 SC 10 of 5.9.1845. 

9 Broadfoot to Currie, 6 August 1845, SC 10 of 5.9.1845. 

10 'You will be so good as to report whether you have any authentic 
knowledge of the numbers of these influential chiefs, the identity of their 
projects and whether the terms they expect have been matured by combi- 
nations and agreements amongst themselves, so as to constitute a powerful 
part representing a large portion of the Punjab property, in land as well as 
in feudations, and thus to have some approximation as to the importance 
of these chiefs supposed to represent the natural interests of that country.' 
Hardinge to Broadfoot, 10 September 1845. SC 48 of 25.10.1845. 

1 1 'The Durbar has also been lately a little excited by the account of 
our preparations received from their newswriters at our various stations 
who send in an exaggerated shape every idle rumour of our newspapers or 
military cantonments.' Broadfoot to Currie, 14July 1845. SC 34 of 15.8.1845. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The Khalsa army was hostile to both the Durbar and the 
British. The former it blackmailed into granting higher wages 
(the Punjabi trooper drew almost twice as much pay as the 
Company's sepoy); the latter was suspected of buying over the 
ministers and senior officers in order to facilitate plans of 
conquest. Although the army was the chief author of the chaos 
in the state, the pahces were able to maintain a certain measure 
of discipline in the cantonments 12 and to organize the casting 
of new guns, construction of carriages, laying in stores of gun- 
powder, muskets and swords, etc. 13 They were also able to infuse 
a sense of patriotism in the rank and file, resurrect the mystique 
of the invincibility of the Khalsa, and fire them with the ambition 
of driving the feringhee into the sea. 14 

The British agent asked for an explanation of the military 
preparations. The Durbar replied that they were defensive 
measures to counter the aggressive designs of the British. In 
addition, the Durbar asked for the return of the treasure of 
Suchet Singh Dogra estimated at over 17 lac of rupees, the 
restoration of village Moron 15 in Nabha, and free passage for the 

12 'Yet as on former occasions there is a singular species of order in this 
anarchy; the troops and pahcayats, except at the moment of a tumult use the 
words of subordinates though they substantially command, and they profess 
to desire to give the nominal supremacy to anyone of their own body in the 
same manner. Though their excesses in the hills were great, especially in 
respect of women, yet they maintain sufficient order in their camps, to have 
bazars with dealers in grain; whose convoys are respected, and though their 
officers are looked on rather as servants than commanders and dare not do 
anything contrary to the inclinations of the pahcayats they are to a consid- 
erable extent obeyed in carrying out movements approved by the pahcayats 
and chaudries.' Broadfoot to Currie, 27 March 1845. SC 33 of 20.6.1845. 

13 SC 34 of 15.8.1845. 

14 Col. Gardner describes the atmosphere in Lahore. He says that such 
was 'the real belief that the intentions of the British were aggressive, such 
the domestic incitements of their families to plunder, and such their 
devotion to their mystic faith, that one single, dogged determination filled 
the bosom of each soldier. The word went round, "we will go to the sacrifice. 
Memoirs of Alexander Gardner, edited by Hugh Pearse, pp. 265-6. 

15 In 1819, Moron had been given to Ranjit Singh by the raja of Nabha 
in exchange for land in the Punjab. Ranjit Singh had given the village to 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


Punjab armed constabulary to the Durbar' s possessions across 
the Sutlej — a right that had been acknowledged by the British 
on paper but more often than not denied in practice. 

The British government rejected the Durbar' s explanation. 

Lord Gough continued to advance. Lord Hardinge joined him 
on 26 November at Karnal, and the two proceeded to march 
towards Ferozepur. On 3 December the British severed diplo- 
matic relations with the Durbar by handing the Durbar agent his 
passport. There was little doubt now that the British wanted war. 
If they were allowed to join their forces at Ferozepur, they would 
inevitably cross the pontoon bridge and menace Lahore. The 
Khalsa army decided to forestall this move. One division was 
ordered to engage General Littler and the other to intercept the 
army advancing under Gough and Hardinge. 

On 11 December 1845, the Punjab army began to cross the 
Sutlej near Hari ki Pattan 16 to its own territory on the other side 
of the river. On 13 December Lord Hardinge declared war. He 
accused the Sikhs of invading British territories 'without a shadow 
of provocation'. The Durbar's possessions on the left bank of the 
Sutlej were confiscated and Cis-Sutlej chiefs were called upon 
to cooperate in punishing a 'common enemy'. 17 

one of his sardars. The raja of Nabha forcibly occupied and looted Moron 
in 1843. Despite the protest of the Durbar, the British upheld the action 
of the Nabha raja. 

16 There is some confusion regarding the actual date of crossing. The 
British allege that the Sikhs crossed between the 8th and 12th of De- 
cember. Some Indian historians (Ska Ram Kohli and Dr Ganda Singh) 
put the date later — Dr Kohli, specifically to 14 or 15 December, that is, 
after Hardinge 's proclamation of war. There is little doubt that Hardinge' s 
proclamation was made after some Sikh units had crossed over. Probably 
the operation, performed by a handful of small boats and over one ford, 
took a few days to complete. 

17 Despite the forthright language used in the proclamation of war, Lord 
Hardinge had his doubts about the morality of his action. Five days later 
he remarked to Robert Cust, personal assistant to Broadfoot: 'Will the 
people of England consider this as an actual invasion of our frontier and 
a justification of war?' It is not surprising that Cust referred to the advance 
of the British force as 'the first British invasion of the independent kingdom 
of the Punjab.' Linguistic and Oriental Essays, v, 46-7. 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


treasonable communication with the English, and in all probabil- 
ity Ranijindan was aware that Lai Singh had written to the British 
'to consider hirn and the fnbi sahiba (Jindan) as their friends 
and cut up the burchas (ruffians, i.e., the Khalsa) for them.* 19 

Battle of Mudki, 18 December 1845 

The Durbar army was divided into two: Tej Singh proceeded 
towards Ferozepur to reckon with General Littler. Lai Singh 
entrenched the larger part of his force near village Pheru Shahr 
(later known as Ferozeshahr) and himself marched on to inter- 
cept Gough and Hardinge. He was surprised to find that the 
British had advanced as far as Mudki. Despite the enemy's 
superiority in mien and arms, Lai Singh ordered his troops to 
commence hostilities while he himself retired to Ferozeshahr. 
The leaderless Punjabis fought a grim hand-to-hand battle 
against the more numerous enemy led by the most experienced 
commanders of Europe. The battle continued with unabated fury 
till midnight (and came thereafter to be known as 'Midnight 
Mudki'). After the loss of half of their force and fifteen guns, the 
Punjabis withdrew from the battlefield. 

The field action of Mudki was not of very great military 
significance except insofar as it gave the British their first 
experience of the fighting qualities of the Punjabi soldier. British 
casualties were heavy; 20 reinforcements were sent for from 
Ambala, Meerut, and Delhi. Lord Hardinge relinquished his 
superior position of governor general and agreed to become 
second-in-command to his commander-in-chief. The march to 
the Sutlej was resumed. 

Battle of Ferozeshahr, 21 December 1845 

On the morning of 21 December Gough came in sight of the Pun- 
jabi entrenchments at Ferozeshahr. By the afternoon, General 
Littler, who had eluded Tej Singh, was able to join forces with 

19 Nicholson's Diaiy dated 12 December 1845. 

20 872 dead and wounded including Quartermaster General Sir Robert 
Sale, Sir John McGaskill, and Brigadier Boulton. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Gough. The British commanders ordered an immediate attack. 
The battle commenced late in the afternoon on what happened 
to be the shortest day of the year. The British tried to overrun the 
Punjabis in one massive cavalry, infantry, and artillery onslaught. 
The battle raged with extreme ferocity through the evening till 
both armies were enveloped in the dark. A shell hit the Punjabi 
powder magazine and set many tents on fire. The Punjabis turned 
the misfortune to their advantage by falling on parties of the 
enemy who had penetrated their entrenchments. At midnight the 
moon rose over the battlefield giving the Punjabis another oppor- 
tunity to liquidate enemy pockets and recover the ground they 
had lost. The British suffered terrible casualties; every single 
member of the governor general's staff was killed or wounded. 21 
That frosty night 'the fate of India trembled in the balance'. 22 
The sun rose on the plains of Ferozeshahr over a terribly 
battered British army. It had run out of ammunition, and the men 
had no stomach left for battle. At this point Tej Singh arrived 
from Ferozepur with troops, fresh and eager for combat. 23 

21 Among the dead was the notorious Broadfoot. 

22 Sir Hope Grant, one of the British generals who fought in the Anglo- 
Sikh wars, wrote: Truly that night was one of gloom and foreboding and 
never perhaps in our annals of India warfare has a British army on so large 
a scale been nearer to a defeat which would have involved annihilation. The 
Sikhs had practically recovered the whole of their entrenched camp; our ex- 
hausted and decimated divisions bivouacked without mutual cohesion over 
a wide area ' Life of General Sir Hope Grant, i, 58-9, edited by H. Knollys. 

Lord Hardinge sent his son back to Mudki with a sword he had been 
given for his services in the Napoleonic campaigns and instructions that 
in the event of a defeat all his private papers were to be destroyed. 

An entry in Robert Cust's diary shows that the British generals had 
decided to lay down their arms: 'December' 22nd. News came from the 
governor general that our attack of yesterday had failed, that affairs were 
desperate, that all state papers were to be destroyed, and that if the 
morning attack failed, all would be over; this was kept secret by Mr Currie 
and we were concerting measures to make an unconditional surrender to 
save the wounded, the part of the news that grieved me the most.' Linguistic 
and Oriental Essays, VI, 48. 

23 See also Vol. II, p. 162, of The Autobiography of Lt. General Sir Harry 
Smith y ed. by G. C. Moor Smith. 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


Tej Singh's guns opened fire. The British artillery had no shot 
with which to reply. Then, without any reason, Tej Singh's guns 
also fell silent, and, a few minutes later, Tej Singh ordered his 
troops to retreat. Lord Gough quickly realized that the Sikh 
commanders had fulfilled their treacherous promise. He or- 
dered his cavalry to charge the entrenchments at Ferozeshahr. 
The defenders, who were confidently expecting Tej Singh to give 
the enemy the coup de grace, were taken by surprise. They fled 
from their encampment, abandoning their guns, 80,000 lbs of 
gunpowder, and all their stores. 24 

The disaster at Ferozeshahr broke the morale of the few 
Durbar notables who had remained loyal to the state. Gulab 
Singh Dogra sent his agent to Ludhiana to negotiate terms for 
his assistance to the British; 25 his example was followed by many 
other chieftains. 26 To induce further desertions Hardinge issued 
a proclamation 27 inviting all natives of Hindustan to quit the 
service of the Durbar on pain of forfeiting their property and to 
claim protection from the British government. 

Buddowal, 21 January 1846; 
Aliwal, 28 January 1846 

Lord Gough decided to wait for reinforcements before crossing 
the Sutlej and pushing on to Lahore. The Durbar received in- 
formation that enemy guns and munitions were being moved 
northwards from Delhi and Ambala. This armament was to be 
assembled at Ludhiana before being sent downstream to 

24 Soon after the defeat, Tej Singh visited the British camp and had 
an interview with Lord Hardinge. What passed between the two is not 
known; but from the subsequent treatment the British accorded to the 
traitor, it is not hard to guess. 

25 SC 319 of 26.12.1846. 

26 Dispatch to Secret Committee No, 2 of 26.12.1846. 

27 SC 246 of 26.12.1846. There were many Hindustani sepoys in the 
Durbar's forces: Jemadar Khushal Singh and his nephew Tej Singh, the 
commander-in-chief, were from Meerut. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Ranjodh Singh Majithia and Ajit Singh of Ladwa crossed the 
Sutlej at Phillaur with a force of 8000 men and 70 guns. In rapid 
marches they liberated the forts of Fatehgarh, Dharamkote, 
Gangarana, and Buddowal and encamped at Baran Hara, seven 
miles from Ludhiana. The Punjabis stole into Ludhiana canton- 
ment and set many barracks on fire. 

Sir Harry Smith was sent to relieve Ludhiana. He marched 
northwards from Ferozepur, keeping a few miles away from the 
Sutlej. Ranjodh Singh Majithia harried Smith's column and, 
when Smith tried to make a detour at Buddowal, attacked his 
rear with great vigour and captured his baggage train and stores. 28 

A few days later, Sir Harry Smith received the reinforcements 
he was expecting and turned on the Punjabis. At Aliwal, Smith 
inflicted a sharp defeat on Ranjodh Singh Majithia and Ajit 
Singh of Ladwa (both of whom fled the battlefield). Once more 
the Punjabi men refused to give in. 29 Large numbers were killed 
fighting; many were drowned in the river. Fifty-six guns were lost 
to the enemy. 

Sabraon, 10 February 1846 

The loss of armour at Aliwal put the Durbar army on the 
defensive. Its generals were uncertain where the enemy would 
cross the Sutlej and so they split their forces. To check the 

28 Sir Harry Smith paid tribute to Ranjodh Singh Majithia 's tactics at 
Buddowal 'It is the most scientific move made during the war,' he wrote 
in his autobiography, 'and had he known how to profit by the position he 
had so judiciously occupied he would have obtained wonderful success. He 
should have attacked me with the vigour his French tutors would have 
displayed and destroyed me, for his force compared to mine was over- 
whelming; then turned about upon the troops at Ludhiana, beaten them and 
sacked and burnt the city. . . .* The Autobiography of Lt. General Sir Harry Smith 
(Vol. u, 186-7.) 

29 'Although their leader Ranjodh Singh was the first to fly and basely 
quit the field leaving his brave followers to conquer or lose, their courage 
never quailed,' wrote Humbley. 'Again they rallied and made one last and 
vigorous effort. Though defeat had made them desperate they fought like 
men who jeopardised all.' Humbley, Journal of a Cavalry Officer, p. 150. 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


enemy advance on Lahore, the larger portion of the army was 
entrenched in a horseshoe curve of the Sutlej near village 
Sabraon; this was under the command of the traitor, Tej Singh. 
The other traitor, Lai Singh, posted himself a little higher up the 
river ostensibly to prevent an attack on Amritsar. 

Punjabi entrenchments at Sabraon were on the left bank of 
the Sutlej with a pontoon bridge connecting them with their base 
camp. Their big guns were placed behind high embankments 
and consequently immobilized for offensive action. The infantry 
was also posted behind earthworks and could not, therefore, be 
deployed to harass the enemy. 

Gough and Hardinge decided to make a frontal assault on 
Sabraon and destroy the Durbar army at one blow. This was 
undoubtedly planned with confidence that the Sikh commanders 
were on their side. 30 

On 7 February it began to rain. For the next two days the 
downpour continued unabated, and the Sutlej rose more than 
seven inches, making all fords quite unfordable; only one rickety 
pontoon bridge connected the army encamped on the left bank 
with its base. Gough was quick to seize the opportunity. As soon 
as the rain stopped, he marched out of Ferozepur and, under 
cover of darkness, took his position at Sabraon. 

On the morning of 10 February a heavy mist spread from the 
river over the rain-sodden fields, enveloping both contending 
armies. When the sun broke through the mist, the Punjabis found 
themselves encircled between two horseshoes: facing them were 
the Briton and behind them was the Sutlej now 7 in spate. After 
a preliminary artillery duel, British cavalry made a feint to check 
on the exact location of Punjabi guns. The cannonade was 
resumed, and in two hours British guns put the Durbar artillery 
out of action. Then the British charged Punjabi entrenchments 
from three sides. 

30 Through intermediaries, Henry Lawrence was able to glean sufficient 
information from Lai Singh to enable him to prepare a 'rough sketch of 
the position and strength of the enemy at Sabraon on the night of 7th 
February' for transmission to the commander-in-chief Henry Lawrence to 
the secretary, 16 May 1846. Henry Lawrences Private Papers. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Tej Singh fled across the pontoon bridge and had it de- 
stroyed. But most of the other generals stayed to fight. The most 
famous of them was Sham Singh Attariwala, 31 who tallied the 
Punjabis in a last desperate stand against the enemy. Those who 
tried to escape were drowned in the swirling waters of the Sutlej. 
Nearly 10,000 Punjabis lost their lives in the action. All their guns 
were either captured or abandoned in the river. It was a com- 
plete and crushing defeat. 32 

Lord Gough described Sabraon as the Waterloo of India. 
He paid tribute to the Punjabis: 'Policy precluded me publicly 
recording my sentiments on the splendid gallantry of our fallen 
foe, or to record the acts of heroism displayed, not only in- 
dividually, but almost collectively, by the Sikh sardars and 
the army; and I declare were it not from a deep conviction that 
my country's good required the sacrifice, I could have wept 
to have witnessed the fearful slaughter of so devoted a body of 
men.' 33 

31 Sham Singh Attariwala was the son of Nihal Singh, one of Ranjit 
Singh's celebrated generals. Sham Singh Attariwala catered service under 
the maharajah in 1803 and fought in the Multan, Kashmir, and north-west 
frontier campaigns. His daughter married Ranjit Singh's grandson, Nao 
Nihal Singh. 

Sham Singh Attariwala won immortal fame for reckless bravery at 
Sabraon. The Punjabi bard, Shah Mohammad, wrote of him as 'squeezing 
blood out of the whites as one squeezes juice out of a lemon.' 

32 'It is due to the Sikhs to say that they fought bravely,' wrote General 
Sir Joseph Thackwell, who was present at the battle; 'for though defeated 
and broken, they never ran, but fought with their talwars to the last and 
I witnessed several acts of great bravery in some of their sirdars and men/ 
Military Memoirs of Lieut.-General Sir Joseph Thackwell, edited by Col. Wyllv, 
p. 209. 

Lord Hardinge, who saw the action, wrote: 'Few escaped; none, it may 
be said, surrendered. The Sikhs met their fate with the resignation which 
distinguishes their race.' Viscount Hardinge, p. 119. 

33 Rait, The Life and Campaigns of Viscount Gough, p. 108. 

The traitors Lai Singh and Tej Singh were 'immortalized' in doggerel 
verse punning on their names: 

Ldlu di IdU gai, Teju da ged tej 

Ran vie pith dikhai ke modha die pher 

First Anglo-Sikh War 


The attitude of the people of Malwa during the conflict 
between their trans-Sutlej brethren and the British deserves 
attention. Of the innumerable Sikh chiefs of this region, only 
four — Patiala, Jind, Faridkot, and Chachrauli — gave unstinted 
support to the enemy; others either stayed on the fence or 
expressed sympathy with the Durbar. 34 Of the two Muslim chiefs, 
Malerkotla sided with the British; Mamdot, despite the offer 
of confirmation of his estates, allowed his brother to lead his 
contingent against the British at Ferozeshahr. 35 The attitude of 
the common people was uniformly hostile to the feringhee. 
Peasants refused to sell grain or fodder to the British army. 

On the termination of the Sutlej campaign, the British govern- 
ment confiscated Rupar, Ladwa, and Allowala, took a quarter of 
Nabha territory and distributed it among the collaborating 
chiefs. The Malwa jagirdars were deprived of judicial powers and 
left only with the right to collect revenue. 

Laloo lost the blush of shame, 

Tejoo lost his lustre, 

By turning their backs in the field 

They turned the tide and the battle yield. 

34 These included Nabha, Ladwa, Allowala, Malaudh, Thanesar, Rupar, 
Kheri, Mani Majra, Shahabad, Sikri, Shamgarh, Buria, and the Sodhis of 

35 SC 1300 of 26.12.1846. 

3. The Punjab Under 
British Occupation 

Two days after their victory at Sabraon, British forces crossed 
the Sutlej and occupied Kasur. The Durbar empowered 
Gulab Singh Dogra, 1 who had earlier come down to Lahore with 

1 Gulab Singh was acceptable to the British because of his earlier 
negotiations with them and because he had prevented the Dogras from 
joining the Punjabis. 

From January 1846 Gulab Singh had been in communication with the 
governor general through various agents. One of his emissaries was a 
Bengali physician, Bansi Dhar Ghosh, who delivered a letter from his 
master to Lieutenant E. Lake (assistant agent to the governor general) on 
15 January 1846. The Dogra wanted to be early in his offer of collaboration. 
He wrote: 'He who wishes to climb the summit of a lofty mountain, must 
start at daybreak; should he delay, night may close over him ere he has 
gained the desire of his heart; the treasure which is buried in the depths 
of the mountain will become the prize of that man, who is the first to reach 
its summit.' SC 319 of 26.12.1846. 

Early in February 1846, Gulab Singh sent a private emissary to Major 
Henry Lawrence, who had taken over the governor general's agency from 
Broadfoot. It seems clear that an understanding was reached between 
the British and Gulab Singh before the battle of Sabraon. As stated in his 
letter of 19 February 1846, to the Secret Committee, Hardinge gave Gulab 
Singh an assurance that his interests would be given full consideration. 
According to the editors of the 1955 edition of Cunningham's History of the 
Sikhs (p. 279), it was chiefly the disclosure of the communication between 
Hardinge and Gulab Singh which led to Cunningham's reversion from the 
political service to the army. 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


regiments of hillmen, to negotiate a treaty of peace, Gulab Singh 
Dogra first obtained assurances from the army parices that they 
would agree to the terms he made and then tendered the 
submission of the Durbar to Lord Hardinge. Hardinge had 
already made up his mind about the future of the Sikh kingdom. 
He knew that there were still too many Khalsa soldiers scattered 
about in the country to permit annexation; so he contented 
himself with terms which would facilitate a takeover at a more 
appropriate time: he weakened the state by depriving it of 
valuable territory, by reducing its army, and by boosting a rival 
power on its frontier. These terms were incorporated in the 
treaty imposed on the Durbar. 

Treaties of Lahore, 9 and 11 March 1846 2 

By the terms imposed by the victorious British, the Durbar was 
compelled to give up the Jullundur Doab, 3 pay a war indemnity 
of 1 l k crores of rupees, reduce its army to 20,000 infantry and 
12.000. cavalry, hand over all the guns used in the Sutlej cam- 
paign, and relinquish control of both banks of the Sutlej to the 
British. A further condition was later added: the posting of a 
British unit in Lahore till the end of the year on payment of 
expenses. Although Rani Jindan continued to act as regent and 
Raja Lai Singh as vazir, effective power was vested in the British 
resident, Colonel Henry Lawrence. 4 

2 See Appendices 2 and 3. 

3 Jullundur Doab was annexed because the Beas was considered a 
better military frontier than the Sutlej, and it was felt desirable to weaken 
the state which had produced 'a more perfect system of military organi- 
zation than any which the British army had hitherto faced.' The Jullundur 
Doab was also very fertile, yielding more than 30 lac rupees per annum 
after defraying all expenses of administration. It could easily pay the 
expenses of the occupation force. 

4 'In all our measures taken during the minority, we must bear in mind 
that by the Treaty of Lahore, March 1846, the Punjab never was intended 
to be an independent state. By the clause I added, the chief of the state 
can neither make war nor peace nor exchange nor sell an acre of territory, 
nor admit an European Officer, nor refuse us thoroughfare through his 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The Durbar was unable to pay the full war indemnity and 
instead ceded the hill territories between the Beas and the 
Indus, including Kashmir and Hazara. Hardinge was reluctant 
to occupy the whole of this area. 5 In pursuance of the policy to 
weaken the Punjabis by strengthening the Dogras, he drew the 
line at the Chakkee river and retained only Kulu, Mandi, Nurpur, 
and Kangra (which were beyond the Beas); the rest was sold, 
to Gulab Singh Dogra for 75 lac rupees. 6 On 16 March 1846, 
another treaty was signed at Amritsar recognizing Gulab Singh 
Dogra as maharajah of Jammu and Kashmir. The Dogra got 
considerably more than he had expected as a reward for his 

territories, nor in fact, perform any act (except its own internal admin- 
istration) without our permission. In fact, the native prince is in fetters, 
and under our protection, and must, do our bidding.' Hardinge to Henry 
Lawrence, 14 August 1847; Edwardes and Merivale, Life of Henry Lawrence, 
p. 417. 

5 'It would bring us into collision with many powerful chiefs for whose 
coercion a large military establishment, at a great distance from our 
provinces and military resources, would be necessary... conflicting inter- 
ests would be created and races of people with whom we have hitherto had 
no intercourse would be brought under our rule while the territories, 
excepting Kashmir, are comparatively unproductive and would scarcely 
pay the expenses of occupation and management.' Governor Generals 
Dispatch to Secret Committee No. 7 of 4 March 1846. 

6 'On the other hand the tract now ceded includes the whole of the hill 
possessions of Raja Gulab Singh and the Jammu family; and while the 
severance of this frontier line from the Lahore possessions materially 
weakens that state and deprives it, in the eyes of other Asiatic powers, 
of much of its pride of position, its possession by us enables us at once 
to mark our sense of Raja Gulab Singh's conduct during the late 
operations, by regarding him in the mode most in accordance with his 
ambitious desires, to shew forth as an example to the other chiefs of 
Asia the benefits which accrue from an adherence to British interests, to 
create a strong and friendly power in a position to threaten and attack, 
should it be necessary to do so, the Lahore territories in their most 
vulnerable point and at the same time to secure to ourselves that 
indemnification for the expenses of the campaign, which we declared our 
determination to exact, and which excepting by the cession of territory, 
the Lahore Government is not in a condition to afford.' Ibid., of 4 March 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


services. 7 He accepted the gift, describing himself with more 
truth than he intended as zar kharid — slave bought by gold. 

The erstwhile kingdom of the Punjab 8 was divided between a 
triumvirate of Lawrence br others and Gulab Singh Dogra. Henry 
as resident administered the Majha from Lahore; John as 
commissioner ruled the Jullundur Doab; George at Peshawar 
controlled Hazara 9 and the Derajat. British officers were posted 
at strategic point s on the pretext of redrawing the state bound- 
aries and helping Durbar officials in their duties. The young 
maharajah and his Durbar were merely the decorative facade 
of a kingdom that had ceased to exist except in name. 10 

7 Tt was necessary last March to weaken the Sikhs by depriving them 
of Kashmir. The distance between Kashmir and the Sutlej is 300 miles of 
very difficult mountainous country, quite impracticable for six months. To 
keep a British force 300 miles from any possibility of support would have 
been an undertaking that merited a straitwaistcoat and not a peerage.' 
Viscount Hardinge y p. 133. 

8 The revenues of what remained of the state were computed at 1 crore 
and 60 lacs of rupees (£1,600,000). After deducting expenses there was 
a net revenue of 108 lacs of rupees (£1,080,000): 

Districts Net Revenue Gross Revenue 

Peshawar 264,965 1,339,047 

SC 1325 of 26.12.1846. 

9 Gulab Singh was unwilling (and unable) to take Hazara. He was 
compensated with territory adjoining Jammu. A public proclamation (No. 
6 dated 25 May 1847) was made by the Durbar regarding the exchange 
of 'the country of Hazara situated to the west of the river Jhelum for an 
equivalent east of the river towards Jammu.' SC 134 of 26.6.1847. 

10 In April 1846 an incident took place which has come to be known 
in history as the 'cow row'. It indicates the state of mind of the 'protectors' 
and their attitude towards the natives. 

An English sentry, irritated by an obstruction caused by a herd of cows, 
slashed some of them with his sword, and thus outraged the religious 
susceptibilities of the Hindu and Sikh citizens. The resident and officers 
who went into the city to explain the misconduct of the sentry were pelted 
with stones. They demanded the severest punishment for the insult. The 


[i.e., except the above districts 
and the Jullundur Doab] 






Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The British experienced some difficulty in enforcing the trea- 
ties they had made with the Durbar and Gulab Singh Dogra. 
Henry Lawrence had to lead a force to Kangra to compel the 
surrender of the fort. Hie situation in Kashmir was even more 
tricky. Shaikh Imamuddin, the governor, received orders from 
the Durbar to hand over the administration to Gulab Singh 
Dogra. At the same time he received a secret note from Raja Lai 
Singh (who had been chagrined by the British government's 
generosity to Gulab Singh) advising him to resist Dogra intru- 
sion. 11 The Shaikh, who had hoped to be confirmed in his post, 
expelled the Dogras sent against him. Once again Henry Lawrence 
had to compel obedience. Shaikh Imamuddin did not offer any 
resistance to the resident, and along with the reins of office he 
handed over the secret missives he had received from Raja Lai 
Singh. Raja Lai Singh was tried by a British court, found guilty 
of duplicity and exiled from the Punjab. 12 Tej Singh replaced him 
as the chief notable of the Durbar. 

In December 1846, Lord Hardinge came to the Punjab. In 
the manner of empire-builders, he made the sardars gifts of 
watches (few of them could read the time) and arranged for the 
Durbar to submit a written request 13 that the British force con- 

next day Maharajah Dalip Singh was taken by Lai Singh to make his 
apologies to the resident. Many houses in the bazaar where the incident 
had taken place were razed to the ground and of the three men chiefly 
concerned in the stoning one was hanged and two deported. The English 
soldier who had caused the riot was 'warned to be more careful in the 

11 SC 1224 of 26.12.1846. See also Sethi, Trial of Raja Lai Singh. 

12 Ibid., Lai Singh lived in Dehra Dun and Mussoorie till his death in 

13 The Durbar was somewhat reluctant to submit a written request. In 
a letter dated 10 December 1846, Hardinge wrote to Currie: 'The coyness 
of the Durbar and the sirdars is natural; but it is very important that the 
proposal should originate with them; and in any documents proceeding 
from them this admission must be stated in clear and unqualified terms; 
our reluctance to undertake a heavy responsibility must be set forth.' In 
another letter, Lord Hardinge instructed Currie to 'persevere in your line 
of making the Sikh Durbar propose the condition or rather their readiness 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


tinue to be stationed in the Punjab till 1854, when Dalip Singh 
would come of age. 

Treaty of Bhairowal, 16 December 1846 

The Treaties of Lahore of March 1846 were replaced by a new 
one which was ratified at Bhairowal. By the terms of this treaty 
the British government undertook the maintenance of the ad- 
ministration and the protection of the maharajah during his 
minority. The resident was given full authority over all matters, 
in every department of the state. The governor general was 
empowered to occupy with British soldiers such positions as he 
thought necessary for the security of the capital, for the protec- 
tion of the maharajah, and for the preservation of the peace of 
the country. 14 In short the British resident was made indepen- 
dent of the council of regency and elevated to the position of a 
governor. 15 Rani Jindan was deprived of all power and pensioned 
off with IV2 lac rupees per annum. 

to assent to any conditions imposed as the price of the continuance of our 
support.' In the preamble of the supplementary articles, the governor 
general added, 'this solicitation must clearly be their act.' Hardinge to 
Currie, 12 December 1846. Private Correspondence relating to the Anglo-Sikh 
Wars, p. [107] pp. 12-13. At an earlier meeting between Rani Jindan, Dalip 
Singh, Lai Singh, Bhai Ram Singh, Faqir Nuruddin, and John Lawrence on 
the evening of 10 September 1846, Rani Jindan had stated that after 
consultation with members of the Durbar on the 'resolve of the governor 
general to withdraw the army,' the conclusion to which they had unani- 
mously arrived was that the 'existence of the government, indeed of her 
own life and that of the maharajah, solely depended on its presence and 
that of the British representative in Lahore.' She further said that 'if the 
army only stayed the Durbar would agree to any terms which the English 
government should think proper to impose.' Bhai Ram Singh followed up 
these representations by paying John Lawrence a visit the next morning. 
SC 1043 of 26.12.1846. 

14 See Appendix 4. 

15 Article 3 of the treaty gave the resident 'full authority to direct and 
control all matters in every department of state.' 

Hardinge wrote to the Secret Committee: 'Your committee will perceive 
that, by these arrangements, I take under my direct control the executive 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Administrative changes introduced by the conquerors both in 
the annexed territories and in those they administered in the 
name of the Durbar are worthy of attention. In the Jullundur 
Doab, consisting of the districts of Jullundur, Hoshiarpur, and 
Kangra, John Lawrence introduced land reforms which had 
far-reaching economic and political consequences. He found a 
baffling variety of land holdings ranging from those of the hill 
chiefs with troops of armed retainers which they were under 
obligation to furnish to the Durbar when required; estates of 
descendants of the Majha misldars and of the Bedi and Sodhi 
descendants of the gurus; religious endowments; grants by 
sanads, and grants to officials in rewards for services to the 
state, etc. 

John Lawrence confirmed the hill chiefs in their estates, but 
both in their cases and in those of jagirdars he commuted the 
obligation to furnish troops into cash payment. He also ordered 
the demolition of most of the forts in the region. As regards 
the other jagirs, he laid down the rule that all grants made after 
the death of Maharajah Sher Singh or made by unauthorized 
persons such as nazims and kdrddrs were to be resumed. The 

administration of these districts and am desirous before I leave this part 
of the country to introduce into these territories an effective system of 
administration, founded upon just principles and regulated by salutary 
rules of practice. Hitherto there has been nothing of the kind, and the 
character of British administration, for justice and consistency in these 
tracts which have been hitherto under our control, has not been maintained 
so fully as might have been desired.' Governor General's Dispatch to Secret 
Committee No. 1 of 1847. 

This was approved by the board of directors. The wording of their 
statement is significant: 'We have already conveyed to you our strong 
approbation of your project for establishing a British regency in the Punjab, 
in case you should determine not to evacuate the country. No middle course 
would be either prudent or safe; and our dominion, so long as it lasts, should 
be absolute and complete.' SC 1350 of 25.1.1847. 

Hardinge was more candid to Hobhouse. Referring to the treaty, he 
wrote: 'It is in reality annexation brought about by the suppression of the 
Sikhs, without entailing upon us the present expense and future inconvenience 
of a doubtful acquisition.' Broughton Papers (Add. Mss 36,475 fascicule 220) 
British Museum. 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


most important jagirs were those granted by the Durbar to its 
loyal servants. John Lawrence was strongly of the opinion that 
this class of jagirdars was now idle, useless, disloyal, and 
'always drones except when opportunity allows them to be wasps 
to sting us.' 16 

John Lawrence's measures, though largely beneficial to the 
peasant proprietors, adversely affected the land-owning class. 
They also caused uneasiness in Lahore circles as Trans-Sutlej 
chiefs owned large estates in the Jullundur Doab. The chiefs 
realized that if the British took the rest of the Punjab, they would 
be deprived of whatever jagirs remained to them. 

As important as the disposal of the jagirs was the fixing of 
land revenue. John Lawrence made a summary settlement for 
three years which, though lighter than the Durbar's assessment, 
caused hardship because payment was demanded in cash 
instead of in agricultural produce. He also made revenue settle- 
ments directly with representatives of village communities, thus 
bypassing chaudharis and lambardars, who were in consequence 
deprived of the privilege of rent-free lands. The revenue officials 
became as disgruntled as the jagirdars. 17 

16 Note by John Lawrence dated 16 December 1846, para 8. 

17 Tf the introduction of our rule has been popular to the majority of 
cultivators, and generally the lower classes of society, it has been decidedly 
contrary to the (interests of) higher. The jagirdars have seen their power, 
influence and property entirely destroyed; the chaudharis and headmen of 
talooquas and villages have in the same way been reduced to the level of 
their poor brethren and being restrained on the one hand from enriching 
themselves by appropriating an undue portion of the village profits, they 
have also at the same time been shorn by government of the highly prized 
possession of cash, mams, rent free lands or favourable assessments.' R. 
N. Cust, deputy commissioner, Hoshiarpur, to commissioner and superin- 
tendent, Trans-Sutlej, 8 July 1847. Board's Collections 117172, pp. 160-1, 
India Office Library. 

'The jagirdars are unfavourably disposed towards us, for their jagirs 
have been resumed. The chaudharis of villages are already losing their 
influence. Their inam or money allowances are reduced, and their claims 
to hold rent free lands are summarily dismissed.' H. Vansittart, deputy 
commissioner, Jullundur, to commissioner and superintendent, Trans-Sutlej, 
7 September 1847. IPC 31.12.1847, Part 8, No. 2289, India Office Library. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

In the Punjab that remained nominally under the Durbar, the 
resident proposed similar changes. Henry Lawrence tried to 
carry the Durbar with him; his brother John, who acted for him 
for a while, did not bother to do that. The Durbar's dominions 
were divided into four judicial districts, each under a judge. 18 
Each judge was given a deputy and provided with troops to 
enforce his orders. The judges were to hear appeals from the 
decisions of kardars and were empowered to decide civil and 
criminal cases (but not revenue matters nor appoint kardars). 
British officers superintended the functioning of these courts. 
John Lawrence had the code of criminal law operative in 
British India printed at Lahore 19 (a lithograph press had been 
set up in the capital in January 1848) and circulated to judicial 
officers. The summary land settlement that John had introduced 
in the Jullundur Doab was later introduced in the Durbar's 

It did not take Rani Jindan and the Durbar chiefs long to 
realize that they had dissipated Ranjit Singh's -kingdom: two- 
thirds of it had been divided between the invader and the upstart 
Dogra; and, in the third that remained, the writ that ran was that 
of the feringhee. They had looked to the British to protect their 
persons and properties from the rapacity of the Khalsa army. 
The British had saved them from the army but had exacted a 

18 General Kahan Singh Man was appointed for Lahore; Ram Singh 
Jallawala for the Chaj Doab; Chattar Singh Attariwala for the country 
between the Jhelum and the Indus; Lehna Singh Majithia for the Majha 
including lands south-east of the Ravi up to the hills and down to Kasur. 

19 Punjab Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1 847-1 848, m, 

Death by hanging was introduced into the kingdom for the first time. 
(In Ranjit Singh's days even murder was punishable by fine payable to 
relations of the deceased or by mutilation.) 

Many progressive measures were introduced by the Durbar under 
British influence. The Durbar was persuaded to issue a proclamation 
against practices such as sati, infanticide, slavery, and forced labour 
(begar). The proclamation was not, however, enforced, and the practices 
continued till after the annexation of the country. 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


heavy price for doing so. In the new dispensation, the Durbar was 
shorn of all power, and the economic supremacy of landed 
aristocracy was seriously jeopardized. Rani Jindan was most 
perturbed with the way things were going and began to meddle 
in affairs of state. 20 The resident was dismayed to find that such 
was the magic of the name of Ranjit Singh that the people 
overlooked the past misdeeds of his widow and acclaimed her 
as their queen mother. It became necessary for the resident to 
remove her from the scene. 21 An excuse was provided when, at 
a formal cer emony to honour nobles, Dalip Singh refused to put 
the saffron mark on the forehead of Raja Tej Singh. 22 The 
resident saw the hand of Jindan behind the episode and two days 
later ordered her removal to Sheikhupura. She was, according 
to her complaint, 'dragged out by the hair' 23 to be taken to the 
fort; her allowance was reduced to less than a third. The 
outraged queen protested: 'Surely, royalty was never treated the 
way you are treating us! Instead of being secretly king of the 
country, why don't you declare yourself so? You talk about 
friendship and then put us in prison. You establish traitors in 

20 Jindan strongly opposed the Treaty of Bhairowal and tried to 
persuade the sardars that they could govern the country without British 
assistance. 'Passion and not patriotism was the secret of this opposition/ 
was the opinion of Henry Lawrence. The resident forbade the sardars 
(notably Sher Singh Attariwala) to visit Jindan 's private apartments. SC 
166 of 30.1.1847. 

21 In February 1847, a conspiracy to murder the resident and Raja Tej 
Singh was unearthed. It was also discovered that Prema, the instigator of 
the plot, was on visiting terms with a servant of Jindan. This was not 
considered enough to implicate the maharani. The governor general, 
however, encouraged the resident to try other means of getting rid of her. 
Governor General's Dispatch to Secret Committee of 5 September 1847; Hardinge 
to Currie, 10 June 1847. 

Prema and three others were sentenced to imprisonment for life and 
five others to various terms in gaol. Punjab Government Records, Lahore 
Political Diaries 1847-1848, Hi, 284. 

22 This was on 7 August 1847. The resident reported to the governor 
general: 4 His Highness shrunk back into his velvet chair, with a de- 
termination foreign both to his age and gentle disposition.' 

23 Jindan to John Lawrence, 10 September 1847. SC 119 of 30.10.1847. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Lahore, and then at their bidding you are going to kill the whole 
of the Punjab.' 24 

A strict guard was placed on Jindan. But the more restrictions 
and dishonour the British heaped on Jindan, the more she be- 
came a heroine in the eyes of the people. Most chieftains openly 
expressed their sympathy for her. Bhai Maharaj Singh, who had 
succeeded Bhai Bir Singh at Naurangabad and was held in as 
great esteem as his predecessor by the peasantry and nobility, 
acclaimed her. 25 The bhai was arrested by order of the resident 
but escaped from custody. He eluded the police and addressed 
large meetings in central Punjab, exhorting the people to rise 
and expel the feringhee. 

Resentment against the English began to mount. The aboli- 
tion of jagirs in the Jullundur Doab, radical changes introduced 
in the system of land revenue and its collection angered the 
landed classes and revenue officials. The insolence of the 
individual Englishmen did not endear them to the people. They 
outraged the religious sentiments of the non-Muslim populace 
by allowing the slaughter of kine; 26 they did not understand 
Sikh resentment against persons entering gurdwaras with shoes 
on. 27 Vile abuse, maltreatment of natives, and molesting of 

24 'You say that I shall receive a monthly sum of 4000 rupees, and from 
this I suppose that you have reduced my allowance. I am the owner of a 

country yielding 3 crores of rupees, in revenue By what reckoning do you 

make out my allowances, to be 4000 per month? I will take what was fixed 
in the treaty, and if any alteration is made, it should be by way of increase 
and not of decrease. . . , You have not only destroyed my character, but have 
also imprisoned me, and separated me from my child. Give me bread, why 
take away my life by starvation. I am the owner of a kingdom; I will have 
redress from your queen. You have acted towards me unjustly.' SC 119 of 

25 SC 142 of 31.7.1847. Maharaj Singh belonged to village Rabbon 
(district Ludhiana) and was present at the death of Bir Singh. 

26 Punjab Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1846-1849, iv, 
431, refers to sale of beef in the open market. 

27 After the Treaty of Lahore. 1846, a tablet bearing the following in- 
scription was placed near the entrance of the Harimandir: 

'The priests of Amritsar having complained of annoyance, this is to 
make known to all concerned that by order of the governor general, British 

The Punjab Under British Occupation 


women by English soldiers became common occurrences. The 
Punjabis began to listen credulously to the wildest of stories: 
that for two months European soldiers would be given liberty 
to accost any woman they chose; that all the Durbar \s ministers 
would be gaoled;- 8 that the sahibs were extracting mumiai 
(human oil) from the corpses of natives. 29 Among the most eager 
listeners to this kind of gossip were the soldiers disbanded after 
the Sutlej campaign; over 20,000 had been let loose in the 
country without any occupation. 30 

subjects are forbidden to enter the temple (called the Darbar) or its 
precincts, at Amritsar, or indeed any temple, with their shoes on. 

k Kine are not to be killed at Amritsar, nor are the Sikhs to be molested 
or in any way to be interfered with. 

'Shoes are to be taken off at the bhoonga at the corner of the tank and 
no person is to walk round the tank with his shoes on. 

Lahore, 24th March 1847. Sd: Henry Lawrence, Resident' 

28 Punjab Government Records, Isihore Political Diaries 1847-1848, m, 

29 Ibid., 413. The legend of the mumimvala, operating on behalf of the 
British continued right up to 1947. The word is probably derived from 
Mumai Khan, a Mongol chief, who tortured his victims by hanging them 
by their feet over a slow fire. 

30 'I see around me and hear of so many men who having been generals 
and colonels in the Seikh army, are now struggling for existence.' Henry 
Lawrence, 29 April 1847, to the governor general. SC 112 of 16.6.1847. 

4. Second Anglo-Sikh War 

ord Hardinge handed over the reins of office in January 

1 J 1848, assuring his successor that 'it should not be neces- 
sary to fire a gun in India for some years to come.' 1 Hardinge's 
policy of bolstering a friendly but subservient Sikh (or Sikh- 
cum-Dogra) state as a breakwater against Central Asian 
Mohammedanism had foundered on the rocks of the Sikhs' 
refusal to befriend the British and be as hostile to the Pathans 
and the Afghans as was hoped. Hardinge was succeeded by a 
haughty young aristocrat, Lord Dalhousie. The mounting unrest 
in the Punjab gave the young laird the chance to reorientate 
British policy towards the Durbar. Instead of only weakening the 
Sikh state, he believed in 'grasping all rightful opportunities of 
acquiring territory or revenue as may from time to time present 
themselves.' The opportunity was not long in coming; and at an 
opportune moment. Henry Lawrence, who was against encroach- 
ment on the Durbar's powers, was away in England on sick leave. 
His brother, John, and Edward Currie, who acted as residents 
in his absence, belonged to Dalhousie' s expansionist school. 

The trouble began at Mult an. Dewan Mulraj, was assessed by 
the resident to pay 20 lacs of rupees for his province. At the same 
time the district ofjhang, which foiHied a third of his estate, was 
taken from him. Mulraj agreed to these terms but was unable 
to fulfil them because the resident had abolished excise duty on 

1 Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, i, 214. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

goods transported by river, which formed a substantial part of 
the income of Multan. Mulraj also resented his judgments' being 
reviewed by the resident. He submitted his resignation in De- 
cember 1847. The resignation was accepted, but the dewan was 
persuaded to continue in office till March 1848, by which time 
the winter harvest would be gathered. 

General Kahan Singh Man was chosen to succeed Mulraj. Two 
British officers, Vans Agnew of the civil service and Lieutenant 
Anderson, were sent down by river to superintend the take over. 
The Durbar party encamped outside the fort. The next day 
Mulraj welcomed Kahan Singh Man and the Englishmen, showed 
them round the fort, and formally presented them with the keys 
of the citadel. The Multan garrison was discharged, and the 
Durbar troops took over. As the Englishmen were passing out 
through the gate of the fort on their way back to camp, they were 
assaulted. In the melee that ensued, Vans Agnew, Lieutenant 
Anderson, and a few others were injured. Mulraj rode back to 
get help and sent a note to the Durbar camp regretting the 
incident. Vans Agnew acknowledged the dewan' s note and 
exonerated him from all responsibility for the assault. He also 
sent a report to the resident stating clearly, l I don't think Mulraj 
has anything to do with it. I was riding with him when we were 
attacked.' 2 He asked for help from Lieutenant Edwardes and 
General Van Cortlandt, who were at Dera Fateh Khan and Dera 
Ismail Khan, respectively. 

The disbanded soldiery of Multan forced Mulraj to become 
their leader. They appealed to the Durbar troops to join them 
in expelling the feringhee. With the exception of Kahan Singh 
Man and a dozen or so others, the Durbar troops went over to 

2 Edwardes, A Year on the Punjab Frontier, n, 78. Lt. Edwardes' note to 
the resident is pertinent. 'I think Mulraj has been involved in rebellion 
against his will, and being a weak man, is now persuaded by his officers 
that there is no hope for him but in going all lengths; that the origin of the 
rebellion was the natural dislike of the Pathans, Baluchis and Multanis 
(men of high family, courage and false pride) to be turned adrift, after a 
life spent in military service well rewarded and that these men will fight 
desperately, and die hard — ' n, 100. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


the Multanis. The next evening they mobbed the British camp 
and killed Vans Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson. Sikh soldiers 
issued an appeal to their co-religionists in the Punjab. 

'Now we, in accordance with the guru's command, have 
written to all of you, our Khalsa brethren. Those of you who are 
true and sincere Sikhs, will come to us here. You will receive pay, 
and will be received honourably in the durbar of the guru 

'The Maharajah Duleep Singh will, by the guru's grace, be 
firmly established in his kingdom, the cow and the Brahmin will 
be protected and our holy religion will prosper 

'The maharajah and his mother are in sorrow and affliction. 
By engaging in their cause, you will obtain their favour and 
support. Khalsaji, gird up your loins under the protection of the 
guru and Guru Gobind Singh will preserve your honour. Make 
much of a few words. Dated 12 Baisakh 1905/ (22 April 1848.) 

So strong was the feeling against the British that within a few 
days the Rechna Doab and the doab between the Chenab and 
the Indus swarmed with Pathan and Baluch swordsmen willing 
to make common cause with the Sikhs to reinstate a Hindu 
governor against the flat of the feringhee. 

The resident's (Edward Currie's) immediate reaction on 
getting news of the attack on Vans Agnew was to order troops 
to Multan. But the very next day, when he heard that both Vans 
Agnew and Lieutenant Anderson were dead and that the Durbar 
troops had joined the rebels, he countermanded his order. He 
summoned the council and told it plainly that since the rebellion 
was against the authority of the Durbar, it was up to the Durbar 
to suppress it. He preferred to ignore the provisions of the Treaty 
of Bhairowal by which British troops paid by the Durbar were 
kept specially for preserving the peace of the country. 

Members of the council confessed their inability to cope with 
the situation. 3 Lord Dalhousie and his commander-in-chief (who 

3 'The chiefs returned yesterday morning, and having heard what I had 
to say regarding the necessity of their putting down the rebellion, and 
bringing the offenders to justice, by their own means as the only hope of 
saving their government, they retired to consult and concert measures. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

pleaded that it was the wrong time of the year for English 
soldiers to fight in the plains) 4 agreed with the resident to let the 
situation deteriorate and then exploit it to their advantage. 5 

The resident did his best to fan the flames of rebellion. Rani 
Jindan, who was under house arrest in Sheikhupura fort and did 
little besides squander money consulting soothsayers and feed- 
ing Brahmins, was ordered to be deported from the Punjab. The 
resident believed that, although iegal proof of the delinquency 
would not perhaps be obtainable/ she was deeply implicated in 
a conspiracy to tamper with the loyalty of native soldiers. 6 Despite 
the unanimous disapproval of the hitherto pliable council of 

After much discussion they declared themselves unable, without British 
aid, to coerce Dewan Mulraj in Multan and bring the perpetrators of the 
outrage to justice. After what has happened, I feel that if the question were 
one merely affecting the maintenance of the Sikh Government and preserv- 
ing the tranquillity of their provinces we should scarcely be justified in 
expending more British blood and British treasure in such service.' Currie 
to Dalhousie, 27 April 1848. L. 139/Bk. 178, Punjab Government Records. 

4 Not all English officers were aware of what was passing in the minds 
of the governor general and the resident. Herbert Edwardes protested that: 
'Some of the hardest campaigns in Indian history were fought in the hot 
weather, and men do not sicken when their minds are on the stretch — 
There is an argument still stronger for our settling this affair ourselves. 
Our national faith as pledged in the treaty solemnly demands that we 
should do all in our power to preserve little Dalip's throne. Now if we wished 
to appropriate the country, and upset that throne, we have only to concen- 
trate a Sikh army on Multan; and disloyalty would follow union, national 
insurrection would follow disloyalty, and the seizure of the Punjab in self- 
defence follow insurrection, as inevitably as the links of a chain. The world 
would acquit us, being ignorant of what we know; but, neither God, nor our 
conscience could do so.' Edwardes to Currie, 4 May 1848. L. 44/Bk.l91, 

5 'The Government of India had decided to let the Punjab abscess come 
to a head, and when ripe to lance it freely in the coming cold weather.' 
Thorburn, The Punjab in Peace and War, p. 101. 

6 Three men were hanged in this conspiracy. Evidence of Jindan's guilt 
rested on the statement made by one of the condemned men prior to his 
execution. He also implicated General Kahan Singh Man as Jindan's agent 
to Mulraj. This part of the statement was disbelieved by the governor 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


regency, the order was carried out with due severity. Jindan was 
taken to Benares under heavy armed escort; her allowance was 
further reduced to Rs 1000 per month. 

A wave of resentment swept over the Punjab. At the time of 
the Multan rebellion, there was perhaps no one who would 
shoulder a musket at Rani Jindan' s bidding; a week after she had 
been removed from the state, there were few who would not lay 
down their lives for her sake. The resident admitted to the 
governor general: The Khalsa soldiery on hearing of the removal 
of the maharani were much disturbed: they said that she was the 
mother of all the Khalsa, and that as she was gone, and the young 
Dalip Singh in our hands, they had no longer anyone to fight for 
and uphold..,.' 7 Even Amir Dost Mohammed of Afghanistan, 
expressed sympathy with the people of the Punjab. 8 

The banishment of Jindan shook the confidence that the 
Durbar notables had placed in the British. Till this time they had 
been loyal because the British had saved them from the Khalsa 
army, guaranteed their possessions and privileges, and given 
them a sense of security. 9 But the removal of Jindan and the 

7 Currie to Elliott, 25 May 1848; No. 515/W.E. 27.5.1848 P.G.R. George 
Lawrence at Peshawar records a conversation he overheard between two 
Sikh soldiers on the separation of Jindan and her son: they 'wondered 
whether we meant to play him [the young maharajah] fair.' One replied, 
4 Rely upon it they do; they always are true to their engagements.' 'Ah but,' 
said the other, 'the bait is great; can they withstand it! 1 Punjab Government 
Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1846-49, rv, 397. 

8 'There can be no doubt that the Sikhs are daily becoming more and 
more discontented. Some have been dismissed from service, while others 
have been banished to Hindustan, in particular the mother of Maharajah 
Duleep Singh, who has been imprisoned and ill-treated. Such treatment 
is considered objectionable by all creeds and both high and low prefer 
death. 1 Dost Mohammed to Captain Abbott; enclosure 13 in No. 44, 
Parhamenta ry Papers ( / 84 7-4 9) . 

9 'The sirdars are true, 1 believe; the soldiers are false, 1 know. 1 Currie 
to the governor general, June 1848. 

Edwardes echoed the same opinion: 'With respect to the sirdars, I 
believe them to be heart and soul on our side, which is the side of jagirs, 
titles, employments, and whole throats. But their force, with equal confi- 
dence, 1 report to be against us to a man.' 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

confiscation of the jagirs of those suspected of too close an 
association with her 10 caused them to question their attitude 
towards their 'protectors'. The family most concerned were the 
Attariwalas because Chattar Singh's daughter was engaged to 
Maharajah Dalip Singh. They overlooked the slights offered to 
Jindan in the hope that if all went well an Attariwala would 
become maharani of the Punjab and they would become the most 
powerful family in the state. Although both the aging Chattar 
Singh, who was ndzim in the north-west frontier districts, and his 
son, Sher Singh, who was a member of the Council of Regency, 
tacitly acquiesced in the expulsion of Jindan, they too began to 
suspect that the British had no intention of restoring the Punjab 
to Maharajah Dalip Singh when he came of age. 

The policy of deliberate inactivity did not percolate down to 
the junior officers, among whom the most enterprising was 
Lieutenant Edwardes who, as we have noted earlier, received 
Vans Agnew's note at Dera Fateh Khan. He did not wait 11 for 
orders but asked Van Cortlandt to join him in his march on 
Multan. He raised levies from the neighbouring Muslim tribes 
as he went along. He crossed the Indus and occupied Leiah; then 
he withdrew from Leiah and captured Mangrota. 12 In mid-May, 
he and Van Cortlandt captured Dera Ghazi Khan and ap- 
proached Multan from the south. Edwardes' spirited moves 
shamed the resident to action. He ordered General Whish and 

10 Punjab Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1846-49, rv, 562. 

1 1 Edwardes' comment on Lord Cough's reluctance to fight a campaign 
in the summer was forthright. 'As if the rebellion could be put off like a 
champagne tiffin with a three cornered note to Mulraj, to name a date more 
agreeable.' W. W. Hunter, The Marquess of Dalhousie, p. 73. 

'This Doab is full of Puthan mercenaries in and out of employ, and 
entertaining those in the forts will, I have no doubt, secure the posts 
themselves. Indeed I am inclined to believe that the whole disturbance in 
Mooltan has originated in the dread of the dewan's Puthan troops of being 
thrown out of employ.' Punjab Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 
1847-49, v, 320. 

12 On 8 May 1848, Edwardes received a note from the resident (dated 
29 April) ordering him to keep away from Multan and restrict his activities 
to the Trans-Indus region. Ibid., p. 322. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


Sher Singh Attariwala to Multan and induced the nawab of 
Bahawalpur to join in the assault. 

Mulraj fought an engagement with the Bahawalpuris at Kineri 
(18 June 1848) and then withdrew. Edwardes and Van Cortlandt 
joined forces with the Bahawalpuris, pursued Mulraj, and in- 
flicted another defeat on him at Saddosam (1 July 1848) . Mulraj 
was compelled to withdraw to Multan. With the Durbar troops 
coming down from the north, and with Lake, Edwardes, and Van 
Cortlandt in full pursuit from the south, Mul raj's time seemed 
to be running out.. 

Bhai Maharaj Singh came to the beleaguered dewan's rescue. 
At the time of Jindan's deportation, he had been active in Majha. 
When he heard of the revolt in Multan, he proceeded southwards 
with his followers. He exhorted the people to join Muiraj's 
colours and assured them that it was written in the sau sakhi 13 
that in sambat 1905 (1848) the Klialsa would regain sovereignty 
in the Punjab. 

Durbar troops were sent in pursuit of Bhai Maharaj Singh. 
They overtook him near the Chenab and inflicted heavy casual- 
ties on his followers. The bhai managed to escape and joined 
Mulraj. His arrival raised the flagging spirits of the dewan, who 
was elevated from the status of a reluctant rebel to a national 
hero. What had been a local rebellion became a war of indepen- 
dence. From all over the Punjab came reports of troops declar- 
ing for Mulraj. 

The Attariwalas turned against the British only when their 
suspicion that the British did not mean to honour the terms of 
the Treaty of Bhairowal turned to certainty. At the instance of 

13 Many versions of this collection of prophecies ascribed to Guru 
Gobind Singh have plagued the Sikh community from time to time. Ver- 
sions of this book (with appropriate changes) were circulated during the 
Mutiny of 1857 (they prophesied ajoint Anglo-Sikh victory over the Mughals) ; 
by the Namdharis in the 1860s supporting the claim of Ram Singh to be 
a reincarnation of Gum Gobind Singh and the future ruler of Hindustan; 
by the supporters of Dalip Singh in the 1880s (prophesying his return to 
the Punjab as maharajah with the help of the Russians). 

New editions of the sau sakhi continue to appear to boost the claims of 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

his father, Sher Singh persuaded Lieutenant Edwardes to write 
to the resident to fix a date for the marriage of Dalip Singh: the 
Attariwalas felt that the response would indicate how the minds 
of British officials were working. The resident promised to 
consider the matter but ended his note with words that could 
scarcely have reassured the Attariwalas. He wrote: 4 1 do not see 
how proceeding with the ceremonies of the maharajah's nuptials 
can be considered as indicative of any line of policy which the 
government may consider it right to pursue now or at any future 
time in respect of the administration of the Punjab.' 14 

Soon after this unsatisfactory reply, the relations between 
Chattar Singh Attariwala and Captain Abbott, who was meant 
to assist him, became extremely strained. Early in August 1848, 
without any provocation, Abbott roused the Muslim tribes against 
the Sikhs. 15 The tribesmen threatened to attack Haripur. For his 
own safety, Chattar Singh Attariwala ordered Colonel Canora 
(an American officer of the Durbar) to evacuate the fort for him. 
Canora refused to comply unless Abbott confirmed the order. 
The Attariwala ordered his troops to occupy the fort by force, 
Canora was killed while trying to fire on the Attariwala's troops. 
Abbott charged Chattar Singh with 'cold blooded murder'. The 
resident was constrained to reprimand Captain Abbott; 16 but a 

14 Currie to Edwardes, 3 August 1848. 

15 'I called upon them in the memory of their murdered parents, friends 
and relatives to rise and aid me in destroying the Sikh forces in detail. 1 
Abbott to Currie, 17 August 1848. 

16 He wrote: 'It is clear that whatever may have been the intention of 
the brigade (under Chattar Singh) no overt act of rebellion was committed 
by them till the initiative was taken by you by calling out the armed 
peasantry, and surrounding the brigade in its cantonment. I have given you 
no authority to raise levies, and organise paid bands of soldiers to meet 
an emergency, of the occurrence of which I have always been somewhat 
sceptical. It is much, I think, to be lamented .. .that you have judged of the 
purposes, and feelings and fidelity of the ndzim and the troops, from the 
report of spies and informers, very probably interested in misrepresenting 
the real state of affairs. None of the accounts that have yet been made 
justifies you in calling the death of Commedan Canora a murder, nor in 
asserting that it was premeditated by Sardar Chattar Singh.' Currie to 
Abbott, 19 August 1848. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


few days later he confirmed the order of a subordinate investi- 
gating officer sequestrating Chattar Singh's jagirs and suspend- 
ing him from the post of nazim. 17 Chattar Singh, old and sick 
as he was, 18 had no option but to fight against the wrong done 
to him. He opened negotiations with Amir Dost Mohammed and 
his brother Sultan Mohammed. They agreed to support the 
Sikhs 19 against the British, provided Peshawar and the Derajat 
were restored to them. Chattar Singh also approached his friend 
Gulab Singh Dogra for help. The Dogra marched his troops up 
and down the Punjab frontier, keeping both the Sikhs and the 
British guessing about his real intentions. 

At Multan, Sher Singh Attariwala heard of the way the resi- 
dent had treated his aged father but refrained from taking a 
precipitate step; on 9 September, he fought alongside the British 
in an attempt to capture the fort. 20 But a few days later, when 
he had reason to believe that the British planned to kidnap him, 
he left the British camp with his troops. The next day he issued 
a proclamation: 

Tt is well known to all the inhabitants of the Punjab, to all the 
Sikhs, and those who have cherished the Khalsa and in fact the 
world at large, with what oppression, tyranny and violence, the 
feringhees have treated the widow of the great Maharajah Ranjit 
Singh and what cruelty they have shown towards the people of 
the country.' 21 

Sher Singh offered to join Mulraj. The dewan's suspicions had 
been aroused by a forged letter which the British contrived to let 
fall into his hands — in this letter Sher Singh was mentioned as 
privy to a plot to t ake Multan by stratagem — and Mulraj refused 
to admit Sher Singh in the fort. In sheer disgust Sher Singh left 
Multan to go to the assistance of his father. The defection of the 

17 Nicholson to Currie, 20 August 1848. 

18 Punjab Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1846-49, rv, 149. 

19 Ibid., p. 267. 

20 'The Sikhs fought splendidly — what pricks they are!' Pearse, Journal 
Kept during the Siege of Multan (mss), p. 48. 

21 Enclosure in Edwardes to Currie, 16 September 1848. No. 1591/W.E. 
23.9.1848, P.G.R. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

Attariwalas was a signal for other sardars to declare for free- 
dom. Thus did a minor fracas develop into a national revolt. Only 
at Lahore, Raja Tej Singh and a few of the same ilk held durbar 
in the name of a hapless minor and did as they were bid by the 

Lord Dalhousie was pleased with the course of events because 
it gave him the excuse he was waiting for. 'The insurrection in 

Hazara has made great head I should wish nothing better 

1 can see no escape from the necessity of annexing this infernal 
country — I have drawn the sword and this time thrown away the 
scabbard/ 22 He received the news of Sher Singh's defection with 
unconcealed pleasure because it had brought matters to that 
crisis that he had for months been awaiting. He noted, 'we are 
now not on the eve of but in the midst of war with the Sikh nation 
and kingdom of Punjab.' Before leaving Calcutta, Dalhousie 
made the declaration of war in his usual forthright manner. 
'Unwarned by precedents, un-influenced by example, the Sikh 
nation has called for war and on my word, sir, they shall have 
it with a vengeance.' 23 He discreetly refrained from including the 
Durbar in his pronouncement so that British reinforcements 
could enter 'Lahore territories not as enemy to the constituted 
government but to restore order and obedience.' 24 

It was an unequal contest. Under the terms of the treaties of 
Lahore, 1846, most of the Punjabi guns had been surrendered 
and their army reduced to 20,000 infantry and 12,000 cavalry. 
The peasantry had been disarmed. The British, on the other 
hand, had massed 50,000 trained soldiers along the Sutlej, 

22 Baird, Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie, pp. 33-4. 

23 Dalhousie to Currie, 8 October 1848. Trotter, Life of Marquess of 
Dalhousie, p. 38. 

24 This confusion in the minds of British officers continued right through 
the campaign. Even the commander of the British forces, Lord Gough, was 
not sure whether he was fighting for or against the Durbar. His biographer 
writes: 'It was not till after leaving Lahore that he knew the definite decision 
of the governor general and that the war was to be against, and not in 
support of, the Durbar — "I do not know," he said on the 15th, "whether 
we are at peace or war or who it is we are fighting for."' R. S. Rait, The 
Life and Campaigns of Viscount Gough, n» 178. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


cantoned 9000 in Lahore and another 9000 at Ferozepur. Many 
of the most powerful forts — Lahore, Kangra, Sheikhupura — were 
in their hands. 

The situation in November 1848 was somewhat as follows. 
The Chaj and the Sind Sagar Doabs had declared for freedom; 
the other doabs were under the British. There were two centres 
of resistance — one led by the Attariwalas in the north-west, the 
other by Mulraj in the south. 

Sher Singh Attariwala passed close by Lahore; the rising of 
citizens that he expected did not take place. He heard of Lord 
Gough's advance to Lahore and retreated northwards to hold the 
British on the Chenab. 

Gough marched up to the Ghenab and came in sight of the 
Attariwala's forces on the opposite bank. The Punjabis crossed 
the river, captured the fort of Ramnagar, and repulsed a British 
force under General Campbell which attacked them. 25 Lord 
Gough came to the relief of Campbell. British forces crossed the 
Chenab at two points and engaged Sher Singh Attariwala in a 
sharp artillery duel near village Sadullapur. 

British superiority in fire power compelled the Punjabis to 
abandon their positions on the Chenab and retreat to the Jhelum. 
They dug themselves in at a place where the river was behind 
them and an expanse of thick brushwood intersected by deep 
ravines was in front of them. The British took up their position 
about three miles south-east of the Punjabi entrenchments. For 
some time the two armies remained inactive. Then the Punjabis 
began to run short of provisions and tried to draw out the enemy 
from their position. News from other fronts induced the combat- 
ants to start hostilities on the Jhelum. Chattar Singh Attariwala 

25 Ramnagar was not an engagement of any great consequence, but it 
gave a much needed boost to Punjabi morale. A British subaltern wrote: 
'The enemy are in great feather, and ride along within half a mile of our 
camp and close to our pickets.' Sandford, Leaves from the Journal of a 
Subaltern, 24 November 1848, p. 66. The Punjabis captured a British gun 
and the colours of a regiment. 

Sher Singh Attariwala sent a note to the British offering to stop hostili- 
ties if they promised to vacate Lahore. No notice was taken of this offer. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

had liberated Attock and sent whatever troops he could spare 
and promised to join his son in an attack on the enemy. The 
British received even a greater fillip with the news from Mult an. 
A British cannonball had fallen on the magazine in the fort, 
blowing up 400,000 lb of gunpowder and killing over five hundred 
of its defenders. 26 The tide of battle had turned in favour of the 
British. They awaited the arrival of their siege guns to compel 
Mulraj to surrender. 

Battle of Chillianwala, 13 January 1849 

The British 27 and the Punjabis jockeyed for position. Lord Gough 
tried to avoid the jungle and attack the Punjabis in the flank. Sher 
Singh Attariwala forestalled the move and took up another 
formation — with the jungles and ravines still separating him 
from the enemy. 

On the afternoon of 13 January 1849, the British launched their 
attack. The Punjabis sighted them advancing from the direction 
of village Chillianwala and promptly opened fire. For an hour 
Punjabi guns kept the enemy at bay. When their fire slackened, 
the British, who had the advantage of numbers, charged in an 
attempt to force the Punjabis into the river. The Punjabis 
scattered into the brushwood jungle and began their harrying 
dhdl phat (hit and run) tactics. 28 The battle raged till the night 
enveloped both the armies. The Punjabis captured four British 
guns and the colours of three regiments. Chillianwala was the 
worst defeat suffered by the British since their occupation of 

26 This was on 30 December 1848. General Kahan Singh Man and his 
son, who were confined in a dungeon, were killed in this explosion. Punjab 

, Government Records, Lahore Political Diaries 1847-49, v, 329. Mulraj 
surrendered on 22 January 1849. 

27 The Dogras under Col. Steinbach (one-time servant of the Durbar) 
and Rohillas, who deserted the Punjabis, joined the British at Chillianwala. 

28 'The Sikhs,' wrote an English observer, 'fought like devils ... fierce 
and untamed even in their dying struggle. . . . Such a mass of men I never 
set eye on and as plucky as lions: they ran right on the bayonets and struck 
at their assailants when they were transfixed/ Sandford, leaves from the 
Journal of a Subaltern, pp. 106-8. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


India. 29 Next morning the Punjabi guns boomed a twenty-one-gun 
salute to a Punjabi victory. 30 

Once again, as at Ferozeshahr, the Punjabis failed to drive 
home their advantage. Their own losses had been considerable, 
and they were not aware of the magnitude of the punishment they 
had inflicted on the enemy. The elements also came to the 
rescue of the British. As soon as the fighting stopped, it began 
to rain; for the next three days it poured incessantly, turning the 
ravines which separated the Punjabis from their quarry into deep 
moats. On the fourth day when the sun shone again on the sodden 
plain, the British pulled out of Chillianwala and retreated across 
the Chaj to the banks of the Chenab. 31 

29 The night was one of great terror for the British. General Thackwell 
wrote: 'Confusion pervaded the whole army. Fears were generally en- 
tertained that the enemy (the Punjabis) would attempt a night attack. If 
they had been enterprising and could have perceived the extent of their 

advantage, they would assuredly have thrown themselves on us The 

jungle which had befriended thern in the commencement of the action now 
formed a protection to us.' The scene of the next morning is also painted 
by General Thackwell: 'Prince Albeit hats and military shoes might be 
seen in all directions strewn on the ground in great abundance . . . the camp 
next day was overspread with funeral gloom.' And it might well have been, 
for nearly 3000 British lay dead or wounded in the ravines and brushwood. 
Thackwell, Narrative of the Second Sikh War, p. 73. 

Lord Gough was superseded; Sir Charles Napier was appointed com- 

30 The British also claimed Chillianwala as a victory. Lord Dalhousie, 
however, made candid admission of the true state of affairs in a private 
letter dated 22 January 1849, to Lord Wellington. He wrote: 'In public I 
make, of course, the best of things. I treat it as a great victory. But writing 
confidentially to you, I do not hesitate to say that I consider my position 
grave ' The Marquess of Dalhousie, p. 209. 

31 British historians have commented adversely on the Sikh treatment of 
British prisoners and wounded; George Meredith, who published his first 
poem on Chillianwala, described them as 'the savage plundering devils 
doing their worst among the slain... the wounded and the dying.' A British 
subaltern wrote: 'Two of the 9000 lancers who were taken prisoners the other 
day were sent back this morning with Sher Singh's compliments. They 
seemed rather sorry to come back as they had been treated like princes, 
pilawedvrith champagne and brandy to the mast-head and sent away with Rs 
10 each in his pocket.' Sandford, leaves from the fottrnal of a Subaltern, p. 12. 


Fall of the Sikh Kingdom 

The Attariwalas sent George Lawrence, who was their cap- 
tive, with terms for a truce. They asked for the investment of 
Dalip Singh as maharajah and the evacuation of British troops 
from the Punjab. The offer was rejected. 

Battle of Gujarat, 21 February 1849 

The Attariwalas advanced towards the Chenab and entrenched 
their forces in horseshoe formation between the town of Gujarat 
and the river. They were weaker both in guns (59 to the British 
66) and in man power. The British attack began at 7:30 a.m. The 
Punjabis as usual opened fire too soon; they exhausted their 
ammunition and betrayed the position of their guns. In a cannon- 
ade lasting an hour, British guns silenced the Punjabi artillery. 32 
Then their cavalry and infantry charged Punjabi positions. Af- 
ghan cavalry, which had joined the Punjabis, tried to deflect the 
enemy but withdrew without achieving its purpose. The Punjabis 
engaged the enemy in a hand-to-hand combat. Tn this action as 
well as at Chillianwala,' wrote General Thackwell, 'Seikhs caught 
hold of the bayonets of their assailants with their left hands and 
closing with their adversaries dealt furious sword blows with 
their right This circumstance alone will suffice to demon- 
strate the rare species of courage possessed by these men.' 33 

The weight of numbers and armour decided the issue. The 
Punjabis gave way. The British occupied Gujarat and pursued the 
Punjabis till they had destroyed all they could find. 34 

The battle of Gujarat ended organized Punjabi resistance to 
the feringhees. On 11 March 1849, the Attariwalas formally 

32 General Thackwell remarked, 'The fidelity displayed by the Seikh 
gunners is worthy of record: the devotion with which they remained at their 
posts, when the atmosphere around them was absolutely fired by the British 
guns, does not admit description.' E.J. Thackwell, Narrative of the Second 
Sikh War, p. 213. 

33 Ibid. 

34 'Little quarter, I am ashamed to say, was given — and even those we 
managed to save from the vengeance of our men, I fear, were killed 
afterwards. But, after all, it is a war of extermination.' Sandford, Leaves 
from the Journal of a Subaltern, p. 155. 

Second Anglo-Sikh War 


surrendered their swords to Major General Gilbert at Hurmuck 
near Rawalpindi. >5 They were followed on the 14th by the whole 
Sikh army. General Thackwell described the scene: 'The reluc- 
tance of some of the old Khalsa veterans to surrender their arms 
was evident. Some could not restrain their tears; while on the 
faces of others, rage and hatred were visibly depicted/ The 
remark of one veteran grey beard as he put down his gun 
summed up the history of the Punjab: 'AjRanjit Singh margaya — 
today Ranjit Singh has died. 

On 29 March 1849, a durbar was assembled in the fort. A 
proclamation was made declaring the kingdom of the Sikhs at 
an end. Maharajah Dalip Singh handed over the Koh-i-noor 
diamond and stepped down from his illustrious father's throne — 
never to sit on it again. 

35 Secret Dispatch to the Secret Committee No. 18. 21 March 1849. When the 
Attariwalas and their armies laid down their arms, many men resolved to 
continue the struggle. Narain Singh was captured alive; Colonel Rachpal 
Singh was killed near Aligarh. On the night of 28 December 1849, Bhai 
Maharaj Singh on whose head there was a price of Rs 10,000 was taken 
with a band of twenty-one unarmed followers. The guru is no ordinary 
man,' wrote Mr Vansittart, who had arrested him. 'He is to the natives what 
Jesus is to the most zealous of Christians.' SC 49 of 25.1.1850. The 
government could not risk a public trial in India, and decided to deport 
him to Singapore. For several years, the bhai was kept in a solitary cell. 
He died on 5 July 1856. 

Mul raj was tried for murder and found guilty. The sentence of death was 
commuted to one of transportation for life. He died neat Benares on 1 1 
August 1851. 



Ten years of anarchy and two sanguine wars against the English 
deprived the Sikhs of the will to resist the annexation of their 
kingdom. The English also sensed that the best way of ruling the 
Punjab was to temper autocratic power with justice (T shall rule 
you with pen or sword,' said John Lawrence) and to have a con- 
tented peasantry. The Board of Administration demilitarized 
the Punjab, restored the rule of law, and opened opportunities 
of employment to the Punjabis. Although all services were open 
to them, preference was shown by the British in recruiting men 
of different communities for different kinds of work: Hindus, 
being more educated than the others, were preferred for clerical 
jobs; Muslims for the police; and, after reassuring themselves 
of their loyalty, the Sikhs for the army. The policy was extremely 
successful; in the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, when the rest of northern 
India rebelled against the government, the Punjabis sided with 
the British. 

After the mutiny, the government resumed its programme of 
public works: of building roads, railways, schools, and hospitals. 


Consolidation of British Power 

The greatest of these public undertakings was the digging of 
canals and the reclamation of desert lands in the doabs between 
the Punjab rivers. The Punjab became the granary of India. Sikhs 
who were chosen to colonize many of these barren wastes be- 
came the most prosperous peasantry in Asia. It was not sur- 
prising that they became the staunchest supporters of the British 
Raj, because — in the words of the governor general, Lord 
Dufferin — 'their future was merged with that of the British Empire 
in India'. 

5. Annexation of the Punjab 

ord Dalhousic did not believe in half-measures. Even be- 

decimate Sikh political power. 1 'The right to annex the Punjab is 
beyond cavil,' he wrote.- He had, however, to contend with the 

1 'There never will be peace in the Punjab so long as its people are 
allowed to retain the means and the opportunity of making war. There never 
can be now any guarantee for the tranquillity of India until we shall have 
effected the entire subjection of the Sikh people and destroyed its power 
as an independent nation.' Governor General's Dispatch to the Secret Committee 
No. 20 of 1849. 

2 Baird, Private Letters of the Marquess ofDalhousie y p. 30. In his dispatch 
to the Secret Committee dated 7.4.1849, Dalhousie gave three reasons for 
the annexation. Firstly, that while the British had observed the Treaties of 
Lahore and Bhairowal, the Durbar had not, inasmuch as that it had not 
paid even a rupee towards the annual subsidy of 22 lacs of rupees nor sent 
troops against Mulraj. Secondly, that the Durbar army and the people led 
by the 'sirdars of the state, the signers of the treaties, the members of the 
Council of Regency itself (one of whom had 'commanded the Sikh army 
in the field') had risen against the British. Thirdly, the Sikhs had invited 
the Afghans to fight the British. 

Mahajan in Circumstances leading to the Annexation of the Punjab 1846-49 
(p. 126) followed by Ganda Singh in Private Correspondence relating to the 
Anglo-Sikh Wars (p. 158) accuses Dalhousie of deliberately misrepresenting 
the facts given in the first reason, viz. that no portion of the annual subsidy 
was paid by the Lahore Durbar, and quotes a letter from the resident at 
Lahore to the governor general dated 23 February 1848 reporting the 
payment of over Rs 13 lacs in gold into British treasury to support their 

down arms, he had resolved to 


Consolidation of British Power 

opinions of some senior colleagues, notably Henry Lawrence, 
who had hurried back from England and resumed his post as 
resident. Henry Lawrence was against annexation. 3 John Law- 
rence was with Dalhousie in holding that the case for annexation 
was 'both undeniable and pressing'. Lord Hardinge and later the 
Court of Directors of the East India Company also backed 
Dalhousie. 4 Assured of this support, the governor general in- 
structed Henry Lawrence to draft the proclamation of annex- 
ation. Henry did not have his heart in the job, and he also desired 
to accept personally the surrender of Dewan Mulraj. When 

contention. It is clear, however, from the accounts maintained by the 
resident of Lahore that this gold was credited against debts owed by the 
Lahore Durbar to the British government prior to the Treaty of Bhairowal 
(SC 245 of 30.12.1848) and that a loan made by the British government 
to the Lahore Durbar in April 1847 was still due for repayment at the time 
of annexation (SC 78 of 2.5.1851). Still less was there money available to 
meet the annual subsidy, the first payment of which was debited in Mav 

Dalip Singh was much later to compare his case to a betrayal of 
guardianship when he agitated for the return of his kingdom. 'I was a ward 
of the British nation; and it was unjust on the part of the guardian to deprive 
me of my kingdom in consequence of a failure in the guardianship.' (Letter 
in The Times, 8 September 1882.) 

3 *My opinion, as already more than once expressed in writing to your 
Lordship, is against annexation. I did think it unjust: I now think it impoli- 
tic.' Henry Lawrence to Dalhousie, 2 February 1849. 

Henry Lawrence's desire, according to his biographer, Herbert 
Edwardes, was to 'erect that great mystical Khalsa corporation of the Sikhs 
into an aristocratic state, at once leaning on and lending support to our 
empire on the side of the northwest; to make it after the death of Runjeet, 
an allied and independent power — to reconcile it when hostile, to spare it 
when subdued, and to utilise its great military force as a barrier against 
Afghanistan, and, if need were, against Russia. The rebellion of 1848 — 
which broke out in his absence, but of which he had not foreseen the 
probability — rudely disturbed, but did not wholly dissipate his dream.' 
Edwardes and Merivale, Life of Sir Heniy iMurrence, p. 470. 

4 'The energy and turbulent spirit of the Sikhs are stated by one section 
(of politicians here) as ground for not annexing. In my judgment, this is the 
argument which would dispose me, if I were on the spot, to annex.' Hardinge 
to Henry Lawrence. W. W. Hunter, The Marquess of Dalhousie, p. 83. 

Annexation of the Punjab 


Dalhousie reacted strongly to Henry's draft and his wish to 
appear as the arbiter of the Punjab's destiny, 3 Henry put in his 
resignation. He was persuaded by his friends to withdraw it and, 
despite being overruled and snubbed, agreed to carry out the 
orders of the governor general. Dalhousie ordered the removal 
of Maharajah Dalip Singh from the Punjab. 6 The Sikh flag was 

5 'I now remark on the proclamation you have proposed. It is objection- 
able in matter because, from the terms in which it is worded, it is 
calculated to convey to those who are engaged in this shameful war an 
expectation of much more favourable terms, much more extended immu- 
nity from punishment, than I consider myself justified in granting them. It 
is objectionable in manner; because (unintentionally, no doubt) its whole 
tone substitutes you personally, as the resident at Lahore, for the govern- 
ment which you represent. It is calculated to raise the inference that a 
new state of things is arising; that the fact of your arrival with a desire to 
bring peace to the Punjab is likely to affect the warlike measures of the 
government; and that you have come as a peacemaker for the Sikhs, as 

standing between them and the government. This cannot be There must 

be entire identity between the government and its agent, whoever he is 

I repeat, that I can allow nothing to be said or done, which should raise 
the notion that the policy of the Government of India, or its intentions, 
depend on your presence as resident in the Punjab. ... I do not seek for 
a moment to conceal from you that I have seen no reason whatever to depart 
from the opinion that the peace and vital interests of the British Empire 
now require that the power of the Sikh Government should not only be 
defeated, but subverted, and their dynasty abolished.' Edwardes and 
Merivale, Life of Sir Henry Lawrence, pp. 433-4. 

6 Having convinced himself that the Sikh nation was to be subverted, 
Dalhousie maintained that he could not permit himself to be turned aside 
from fulfilling the duty which he owed to the security and prosperity of 
millions of British subjects 'by a feeling of misplaced and mistimed 
compassion for the fate of a child.' W. W. Hunter, The Marquess of Dalhousie, 
p. 82. 

The rest of the careers of Dalip Singh and his mother are of more 
human than historical interest. In 1853 Dalip Singh was converted to 
Christianity. A year later he and his cousin, Prince Shiv Dev Singh, left for 
England. Dalip Singh was given an estate at Elvedon in Suffolk. He became 
a great favourite of Queen Victoria, who treated him as her godson. Rani 
Jindan, who had escaped to Nepal, later joined him in England where she 
died in 1863. Dalip Singh brought his mother's ashes to India. On his way 
back to England he married, in Alexandria, Bamba Muller, the daughter 


Consolidation of British Power 

lowered, the Union Jack hoisted on the ramparts of the Lahore 
fort. Sikh currency, of which there were many varieties (nanaksahi, 
hari singhiy gobind sdhi, etc.), was withdrawn, and the Company's 
sicca rupee introduced. 

Demilitarizing the Punjab 

The Punjab's cities and villages were placarded with notices 
demanding the surrender of arms. More than 120,000 stands of 
arms of matchlocks, swords, and other weapons were voluntarily 
handed over. A muster of the Durbar' s forces was called at 
Lahore. A small number of troops were retained; the rest of the 
army was disbanded. Forts and defensive fortifications — prac- 
tically every Punjabi village had defensive bastions — were lev- 
elled. The only part of the erstwhile kingdom which was not 
demilitarized was the district of Peshawar. (The exception was 
made on the ground that there was not a large enough British 
force to defend the people of the area from the incursions of 
tribal raiders.) All military grants were abolished. 7 

of a German merchant through an Ethiopian woman. They had five 
children, two sons and three daughters. 

Dalip Singh lived beyond his means and ran into debt. He tried to 
reclaim his kingdom through an appeal first to the British government and 
then to the Privy Council. When that failed, he tried to interest European 
powers in helping him recapture his kingdom. He began to describe 
himself as the 'implacable foe of the British people'. He announced his 
reconversion to the Sikh faith and opened correspondence with several 
Indian princes and Sikh chieftains. The bout of megalomania lasted till 
he discovered that no one really took him seriously. Many Sikh organiza- 
tions passed resolutions condemning him and advising him to seek the 
forgiveness of the queen. In 1890 Dalip Singh's debts were paid and he 
was granted the queen's pardon. After the death of Bamba Muller, Dalip 
Singh remarried in June 1889, Ada Douglas Wetherell. He died on 22 
October 1893, of paralysis and was buried a week late at Elvedon. 

7 Dalhousie overruled Henry Lawrence, who recommended leniency 
towards holders of military jagirs. He wrote; 'Nothing is granted to them 
[the military jagirdars] but maintenance. The amount of that is open to 
discussion, but their property of every kind will be confiscated to the 
state — In the interim let them be placed somewhere under surveillance; 

Annexation of the Punjab 


Board of Control 

There were diverse views on the sort of government that would 
best suit the Punjab. Sir Charles Napier, who had taken over as 
commander-in-chief from Lord Gough, was of the opinion that 
the Punjab, like Sindh, should have military rule. Others believed 
that, like the rest of India, it should be ruled by civilians. Lord 
Dalhousie decided to combine the two by giving the Punjab a civil 
administration manned by both civilian and army officers. 8 He 
established a Board of Administration consisting of three mem- 
bers. Henry Lawrence was appointed president and entrusted 
with matters connected with defence and relations with the 
sardars. John Lawrence was put in charge of the settlement of 
land and other fiscal matters. C. G. Mansel was entrusted with 
the administration of justice and the police. 9 These three thus 
constituted the heart, the backbone, and the arm of the Punjab's 
body-politic. The Board was made the final court of appeal with 
powers of life and death. It was also charged with regulating 
matters of excise, revenue, and police. 

'You shall have the best men in India to help you,' wrote 
Dalhousie to Henry Lawrence. He sent to the Punjab the most 

but attach their property till their destination is decided. If they run away, 
our contract is void. If they are caught, I will imprison them. And if they 
raise tumult again, I will hang them, as sure as they now live and I live then.' 
W. W. Hunter, The Marquess of Dalhousie, p. 99. 

8 The disagreement between Sir Charles Napier and Dalhousie became 
quite acrimonious and personal. Napier described Dalhousie as 'the young 
Scots laird... as weak as water and as vain as a pretty man or an ugly 
woman." Dalhousie in no uncertain terms told Sir Charles to mind his own 
business. 1 have been warned, Sir Charles,' wrote Dalhousie, 'not to let 
you encroach upon my authority and I will take good care you shall not.* 
Arnold. The Marquis of Dalhousie *s Administration of British India y l, 225. This 
however, did not deter Sir Charles from expressing his contempt for the 
Board, 'Boards rarely have any talent and that of the Punjab offers no 
exception to the rule.' 

9 Montgomery later replaced Mansel. The president did not however 
have the power to overrule his colleagues in matters specifically assigned 
to them. 


Consolidation of British Power 

experienced Englishmen available in India. Of the 56 covenanted 
officers, 29 were from the army and 27 from the civil service. 
The policy Henry Lawrence followed was to 'rule by strength 
rather than precision.' 10 Every civil functionary from a member 
of the Board down to the humblest kardar was vested with 
judicial, fiscal, and magisterial powers. 

Two regions, the Cis-Sutlej and the Trans-Sutlej, were re- 
united to the Punjab. The Punjab along with the Trans-Indus 
territories which were placed under the same administration 
comprised of an area of about 73,000 square miles. Its popula- 
tion was roughly estimated at 10 million. 

The Punjab was divided into seven divisions or commissioner- 
ships, which were further divided into districts (on which there 
were 25 in the province) . A five-tiered administration was set up. 
Next to the Board were the commissioners of the seven divisions. 
Below the commissioners were deputy and assistant commis- 
sioners; and below them, extra assistant commissioners — a 
cadre specially constituted to provide jobs for 'such natives as 
might have filled offices of trust under the Durbar'. 11 The lowest 
grade of gazetted officer was the tehsilddr, whose civil powers 
extended to deciding cases up to the value of Rs 300. 

The Board at Work 

Defence was given top priority. The Guide Corps, which had been 
raised by Henry Lawrence in 1846, was increased in strength 
and included troops of horse as well as infantry. Recruits were 
drawn from the toughest elements in the country; professional 
hunters and even brigands were accepted. The Guides were 
charged with guarding the chain of fortresses which were built 
to prevent tribal incursions from the north-west and with main- 
taining peace in the Derajat. For internal security ten regiments, 
five cavalry and five infantry, were raised. Some of the Durbar's 
soldiers were absorbed in these regiments. A military police 

10 C. L. Tupper, chief secretary, Punjab government, in paper read to 
the East India Association, 25 July 1891. 

11 Punjab Administration Report, 1849-50 & 1850-51, para. 91. 

Annexation of the Punjab 


force consisting of 8000 men, largely Punjabi Mussalmans, was 
raised. The foot constabulary was meant to guard treasuries and 
gaols, the mounted police to patrol highways. A secret intelli- 
gence service (khufta) police comprised of informers and detec- 
tives (jasus) was attached to the police to keep the government 
in touch with the political temper of the people. Also attached 
to the police were professional trackers (pagi, khoji or khurepat), 
who brought with them their uncanny gifts for following spoors 
of missing cattle over long, dusty tracks. The old village watch- 
and-ward was revived. Village watchmen — caukidars — continued 
to be employed by the villagers but were expected to keep the 
police informed of the movements of strangers. 

These new units of the police and the army numbered over 
50,000 men. Special precautions were taken in policing the 
Majha, where Bhai Maharaj Singh and his two colleagues, Colo- 
nel Rachpal Singh and Narain Singh, were reported to be active. 

Once the peace of the province was assured, the Board 
started on a programme of public works. The Grand Trunk Road 
from Peshawar to Delhi was reopened; work was started on 
connecting the bigger cities and military outposts. 12 

The Punjab had a fairly extensive network of canals. The 
Public Works Department cleared the Hasli (which supplied 
water to the many temple-tanks in Amritsar and the Shalamar 
Gardens in Lahore), made plans to extend it and to dig branch 
canals. Trees were planted on the banks of canals and alongside 
roads. Rest houses {dak bungalows) were built to accommodate 
officials on tour. A programme of afforestation of barren lands 
was taken in hand. In the districts of Lahore, Gurdaspur, and 
Gujranwala, a million saplings were planted. These included as 
many as ninety different varieties of timber. Large tracts were 

12 The 264 miles from Lahore to the frontier crossed 103 large and 
459 small bridges and went through six mountain ranges. The Punjab 
Administration Report of 1849-50 & 1850-51 claimed that in the first two 
years after annexation: k 1349 miles of road have been cleared and 
constructed; 853 miles are under construction; 2487 miles have been 
traced and 5272 miles surveyed, all exclusive of minor cross and branch 
roads' (para. 346). 


Consolidation of British Power 

set apart as grasslands — rakh. Landholders were encouraged to 
plant trees, and coppice lands were exempted from taxation. 

The Board's greatest contribution, however, was in improving 
the condition of the agriculturists who formed the vast bulk of 
the population. New varieties of crops were introduced. New 
Orleans cotton, sugarcane, flax, tobacco, and a variety of root 
crops began to be grown in the plains; tea was planted on the 
slopes of the Murree hills and in the Kangra Valley. The Punjab 
had already a large number of mulberry trees; the import of 
silkworms gave sericulture a boost. Italian merino rams were 
crossed with local breeds, with beneficial results for both the 
yield of meat and wool. 

The full impact of the changes in the system of revenue 
introduced by John Lawrence when he was acting resident was 
now felt. Despite the reduction in the rate of assessment, 
revenue from land increased from 130 lacs of rupees in 1849 to 
160 lacs in 1851. The Board was able to show a balance sheet 
with surpluses of 102 and 96 lacs, respectively, for the first two 
years in which it administered the province. 13 

Steps to regularize taxes had also been initiated before 
annexation. The Durbar had as many as 48 different kinds of 
lev) r and maintained innumerable octroi posts. The Board con- 
firmed the abolition of all internal duties and built a chain of 
octroi posts on the frontiers to collect taxes on imports. Excise 
was levied on spirits and drugs; tolls were charged on ferries; 

13 Punjab Administration Report, 1849-50 & 1850-51, paras. 264, 402-5. 
The surpluses were however largely the result of confiscation of jagirs 
and the sale of Durbar property. And it is also relevant to mention that the 
expenditure of the province took no account of the cost of maintaining 
regular troops. 

Dalhousie instructed a Dr Jamieson to make a report on the physical 
features, geology, flora, and fauna of the annexed territories; Dr Fleming 
was instructed to report on the possibility of further exploiting the salt range 
and the mineral resources of the sub-montane areas. A French mineralo- 
gist, M. Marcadien, surveyed Kangra; his report confirmed the existence 
of rich iron ores in the Kangra region. (SC 115-16 of 23.9.1853.) In Spiti 
and the Kulu uplands, borax was found. In 1891 the first oil wells were bored 
near Rawalpindi and Attock. Civil and Military Gazette, 29 January 1891. 

Annexation of the Punjab 


the salt mines were taken over and, instead of being farmed out 
to contractors, were exploited by the state itself with a levy of 
Rs 2 per maund. (Import of salt from Rajasthan was prohibited.) 
The Board more than made up the loss of revenue from the 
abolition of internal levies by introducing stamp duty on civil 
suits. Thus the complicated tax structure of the Durbar, which 
yielded only 16 lacs per year, was simplified and yet made to 
yield a quarter of a lac more. It also had the further advantage 
of saving the common man from the caprice of officials. 

Evil practices such as the destruction of female children on 
birth, satl, etc. were forbidden. Marriage customs, dowry, di- 
vorce were modified to ameliorate hardship on women. Rules of 
inheritance of property were recognized. 14 Since the tehslldar 
was the only official conversant with these rules and customs, he 
was entrusted with the necessaryjudicial powers. Village pancayats 
were allowed to function in less important matters affecting the 
village community. In cities, town councils were constituted to 
advise and assist English magistrates on civil matters. 

The Board discovered to its surprise that the incidence of 
literacy was higher in the erstwhile Punjab kingdom than in some 
British provinces 1 n — the Punjab had many elementary schools, 
including 16 for girls in Lahore. The Board allowed the native 
madrasas to function and in addition set up a number of central 
schools for higher education in the bigger cities. It also decided 

14 Four years after annexation, Sir Richard Temple with a revenue 
official as assistant drew up the corpus juris consisting of the laws and 
customs of the Punjab. This became the Punjab Civil Code of 1854, and, 
although it did not receive official sanction, it was administered for sixteen 
years throughout the province. Later Sir James Stephen, law member of 
the viceroy's council from 1869-72, drafted legislation for the Punjab. 
Crime was regulated by the Indian Penal Code, revenue by the Punjab Land 
Revenue Act, and several matters by the Punjab Laws Act (which super- 
seded the Punjab Civil Code). An amendment by Sir George Campbell 
provided that local custom be given priority to enforce the tribal and family 
customs of the Punjab as long as they were not opposed to justice, equity, 
and good conscience. 

15 Arnold, The Marquis of Dalhousie's Administration of British India, I, 


Consolidation of British Power 

to continue the use of Persian for official records in the new 
annexed region and Urdu for eastern Punjab. 

The administration by the Board was an unqualified success. 
It brought peace and prosperity to the country which had passed 
through ten years of civil strife. In August 1852 the Board 
presented a report on its work in the first two years. It stated 
with pride that 'in no part of India had there been more perfect 
quiet than in the territories lately annexed.* It also complimented 
the people it had to deal with. 'There are less prejudices and 

elements of hindrance in the Punjab than elsewhere Sikh 

fanaticism is dying out, the Hindus are less superstitious and 
priest ridden and the Mohammedans less bigoted and less 
bound by traditional practice than their co-religionists in any 
part of India.' 16 The governor general and directors of the East 
India Company felicitated the Board 'for the prosperous and 
happy result'. 

How did the change affect the Sikh community? The succes- 
sion of defeats in the field of battle in addition to the knowledge 
of betrayal of national interests disillusioned the Sikh rank and 
file with the royal family and the aristocracy. Consequently, 
much as Bhai Maharaj Singh was respected, he was unable to 
arouse enthusiasm among the masses to continue fighting for 
the Durbar; when he was arrested and deported to Singapore, 
there was hardly any agitation among the Sikhs. 

Dalhousie expelled the royal family and liquidated the Sikh 
nobility of the Trans-Sutlej region. 17 Sikh peasants and soldiers 
were suspect and given little chance for employment in the army 

16 'To deal with the best manhood of India, we had the best men of 
the Indian Government, the warmest interest of the governor general 
himself, and a lavish employment of time, labour and treasure. It was an 
imperial experiment, imperially conducted, and crowned with, an aus- 
picious result which must be divided between the rulers and the ruled.' 
Ibid., I, 351. 

17 Personal and service jagirs of 25 Sikh chiefs were confiscated. 
SC 68-71 of 26.5.1849. The Sikhs had no educated middle class; conse- 
quently, of the eleven extra assistant commissioners, the Board was able 
to select only one Sikh. 

Annexation of the Punjab 


or the police force, both of which were largely Muslim. Under 
the circumstances it was not very surprising that the militant 
spirit of the disbanded Khalsa soldiery (over 40,000 of whom 
were let loose after the Anglo-Sikh wars) turned to crime. The 
central districts of the Punjab became infested with dacoits, 
almost all of whom were Sikhs. Thuggee became rampant — 
most of the fraternity being either Mazhabi or Sainsi Sikhs. The 
government was constrained to appoint a superintendent for the 
suppression of thuggeeism, 18 and the crime was put down with 
a firm hand. 

The most important effect of annexation was the new relation- 
ship between Sikhs and Hindus. It has already been noted that, 
from the time the Khalsa became a political power, large 
numbers of Hindus, who had looked upon it as the spearhead 
of Hinduism, had nominally accepted the pahul (baptism). 
During Sikh rule the distinction between Sikh and Hindu be- 
came one of mere form; the Khalsa wore their hair and beards 
unshorn, the Hindus did not. For the rest, Brahmanical Hindu- 
ism had come back into its own. The new Sikh Jat nobility aped 
the practices of Hindu Rajput princes; they worshipped Hindu 
gods alongside their own Grarith, venerated the cow, went on 
pilgrimages to Hindu holy places, fed Brahmins, consulted 
astrologers and soothsayers, and compelled widows to immo- 
late themselves on the funeral pyres of their husbands. Among 
certain sections, notably the Bedis, the caste to which Guru 
Nanak had belonged, the practice of killing female children on 
birth had been revived. 19 

18 Mr Brereton made a detailed report on the thug fraternity in the 
Punjab. He mentions a Mazhabi Sikh, Wazir Singh, as the founder of the 
order in the province. He was eventually caught and hanged. Sher Singh 
introduced vigorous measures to suppress thuggee but the period of anar- 
chy following his murder was favourable to the growth of the crime. FC 259 
of 14.1.1853. 

19 John Lawrence had come across this practice when he was commis- 
sioner of Jullundur Doab. When renewing the leases of the landholders he 
made them repeat loudly: "Bead matjaldo — Do not burn widows. l Betl mat 
mdro — Do not kill daughters. 'Korhi mat dabao — Do not bury lepers. Bosworth 
Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, I, 197. 


Consolidation of British Power 

As soon as power passed out of Sikh hands, large number of 
Hindus who had adopted the practices of the Khalsa abandoned 
them to return to orthodox Hinduism. With them went a consid- 
erable number of those who had been Khalsa for several gen- 
erations. In the two short visits that Lord Dalhousie made to the 
Punjab he was able to detect this tendency. Their great Gooroo 
Govind sought to abolish caste and in a great degree suc- 
ceeded/ noted the governor general. 'They are however, gradu- 
ally relapsing into Hindooism; and even when they continue 
Sikhs, they are yearly Hindooified more and more; so much so, 
that Mr now Sir Geo. Clerk (governor of Bombay, 1847-8) used 
to say that in 50 years the sect of the Sikhs would have dis- 
appeared. There does not seem to be warrant for this view, 
though it is much more likely now than six months ago/ 20 

John Lawrence's biographer states that infanticide was not only prac- 
tised by Rajputs but was universal among the Bedis . . . 'they had never 
allowed a single female child to live.' Ibid., i, 206. 

This statement appears somewhat exaggerated. Amongst the practices 
that Guru Gobind Singh forbade was infanticide. He excommunicated 
kurimdrs (those who killed female children) and disallowed them admis- 
sion to Sikh temples. His injunction still stands imprinted in large letters 
at the entrance of the Akal Takht alongside the Golden Temple. 

Two years after annexation, the deputy commissioner of Gurdaspur 
reported the continuance of this crime among the Bedis. Thereafter it was 
discovered that it was prevalent also among Hindu and Muslims Rajputs, 
that is, everywhere with the exception of the districts of Leiah, Dera Ismail 
Khan, Peshawar, and Hazara. FC 185-90 of 9.9.1853. On the Divali of 1853 
a large meeting of Sikhs, Muslims, and Hindus, was called in Amritsar, 
where the matter was discussed and resolutions condemning the practice 
were passed. Thereafter similar meetings were held in various towns in 
the province. A code of rules restricting the size of dowries — one of the 
chief reasons for the destroying of female children — was drawn up. Within 
a few months infanticide ceased to be practised. 

20 Letter of 7 May 1849. Baird, Private letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie, 
p. 69. 

*With the disappearance of the Khalsa prestige, these votaries have 
fallen off; they joined in hundreds, and have deserted in thousands. The 
ranks of Hindooism receive them again, and their children will never drink 
the pahul at Amritsar.' Arnold, The Marquis of Dalhousie 's Administration of 
British India, I, 386. 

Annexation of the Punjab 


Break-up of the Board 

The differences between Henry Lawrence and his brother, John, 
had often strained relations to the breaking point (Montgomery 
confessed that he had to serve as a 'regular buffer between two 
high powered engines'). In these disputes Lord Dalhousie openly 
showed preference for John and often went out of the way to 
belittle Henry. 21 The conflict came to a head when both brothers 
put in their resignations. Dalhousie promptly abolished the 
Board, transferred Henry Lawrence to Rajputana, and appointed 
John Lawrence chief commissioner of the Punjab. This change 
was more one of form than of substance as John continued to be 
assisted by two 'principal commissioners \ Montgomery re- 
mained in charge of the judiciary as well as education, roads, 
police, local and municipal administration. George Edmonstone 
was appointed financial commissioner. 

Once John Lawrence was left to himself, he began to see the 
wisdom in the policies which his brother had advanced and he 
(John) had opposed. His handling of jagirs and rent-free tenures, 
of which over 60,000 still remained to be decided, was liberal 
enough to evoke a sharp rebuke from the governor general. The 
most important aspect of John Lawrence's administration was 
his success in winning over the Sikh masses. When he was 
convinced that the Sikh peasantry had little sentiment for the 
restoration of a Sikh state, he allowed them to be recruited for 
the army. The peasants joined the Company's forces with 
enthusiasm. Their performance in the skirmishes against Pathan 
tribesmen and in the Anglo-Burmese War (1852) encouraged 
the British commanders to enlist them in larger numbers. 

21 In a letter of 18 June 1851, Henry wrote to his brother John: 'I am 

at a loss to understand the governor general Bad enough to snub us 

when we are wrong, intending to do right; but to be insulted by assumptions 
and tittle tattle is too bad — One works oneself to death, and does 
everything publicly and privately to aid the views of a man who vents his 
impertinences on us, in a way which would be unbecoming if we were his 
servants.' Edwardes and Merivale, Life of Sir Henry Lawrence, pp. 441-2. 

6. Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 

Causes of the Mutiny 

Causes of the Mutiny of 1857 can be traced back to some 
well-intentioned but ill-timed measures introduced by suc- 
cessive governors general: Amherst, Bentinck, Auckland, Ellen- 
borough, and Dalhousie. These measures adversely affected all 
classes, ranging from princes and landowners to peasants and 
sepoys — most of all the sepoys. 

Many states were annexed when their rulers failed to produce 
natural heirs. Nana Sahib, the last of the Peshwas, was deprived 
of his pension. The rani of Jhansi, was informed that on her death 
her state would lapse to the British. These two became leaders 
of the Maratha rebels. 1 The crowning act of perfidy was the 
annexation of Oudh. 2 The people of Hindustan began to say: 'If 

1 Other important states taken over were Sambalpur, Satara, Tanjore, 
Nagpur , Murshidabad, and Carnatic. Of the last named the following note 
is recorded in the Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie. 'The young 
nawab of the Carnatic died suddenly a week ago. He has left no son, and 
it is probable that the title will now be made to cease; if so, it will be another 
windfall for the Company, and another text for abuse of my insatiable 
rapacity and inordinate ambition' (p. 359). 

2 'The King has refused to sign the treaty offered to him. Accordingly 
the Government of India has assumed the government of Oudh. The King 
has issued a proclamation calling on all his subjects to render obedience to 
the British Government. So our gracious Queen has 5,000,000 more subjects 
and .£1,300,000 more revenue than she had yesterday.' Ibid. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


the British Government dethrones a king who has ever been so 
faithful to them, what independent nawab or raja is safe?' 3 Even 
the Mughal royal family was not spared. Lord Dalhousie ex- 
tracted an understanding from the emperor's favourite son that 
the Red Fort of Delhi would be handed over to the British after 
his father's demise. Although the royal family had ceased to be 
of political consequence, people had sentimental attachment to 
the dynasty of Babar and looked upon the Red Fort and its palace 
with nostalgic affection. 

Landowning classes were affected by measures designed to 
eliminate large estates and by demands for documentary evi- 
dence of titles — a practice till then not prevalent in the country. 4 

English officials were not close enough to the people to realize 
how innocuous measures could be misconstrued by the illiterate 
masses. Thus the abolition of sati, validation of widow remar- 
riage, legislation enabling converts to inherit ancestral property 
were passed at a time 5 when Christian missionaries were claim- 
ing large numbers of proselytes, thus strengthening the Indians' 
conviction that the English rulers meant to destroy their ancient 
faiths and traditions. 

The sepoys were particularly affected by the anti-British 
feeling that prevailed in the country. Orders forbidding the 
wearing of caste marks, beards, or turbans were looked upon by 
them as infringements of religious rights. 6 Superstitious Hindus 
lent a willing ear to the gossip that their ration of flour had 
bones of animals ground and mixed in it. When, in the autumn 
of 1856, the old musket, the Brown Bess, was replaced by the 

3 Norgate arid Phiilott, From Sepoy to Subedar, p. 112. 

'The unjust appropriation of Oudh,' states a contemporary English 
writer, was 'a finishing stroke to a long course of selfish seeking of our own 
benefit and aggrandisement.' Mrs Harris, A Lady's Diary of the Siege of 
Lucknow, p. 60. 

4 The Inam Commission operating in Bombay and the land settlement 
of Bengal caused great uneasiness among the zamindars of the two prov- 

5 The act was passed in 1850. 

6 Such orders had been passed in 1806 and led to a serious mutiny in 


Consolidation of British Power 

more efficient Enfield rifle, the story that the grease on the cap 
of the new cartridge was extracted from the fat Of cows and pigs 
was readily accepted. The sepoys, both Hindu and Muslim, felt 
that the time had come for them to make a choice: they could 
either throw up their job and serve their gods or stick to them 
and serve the English. 

The sepoys had many other grievances. Their pay was low. 
The highest rank they could attain was that of a subedar at 
Rs 60-70 per month; for the equivalent rank, an Englishman 
drew ten times more. 7 At the time of enlistment, sepoys were 
given assurances that they would not be called upon to go 
overseas. Nevertheless attempts were made to send them to 
Java and Burma. An example that defiance could pay dividends 
was set by English officers themselves who, when Lord Bentinck 
ordered reductions in their pay, threatened mutiny. If the sahib 
log could defy their own sircar, why not the natives? 

All classes of Indians — princes, merchants, the intelligen- 
tsia, peasants, and workers — who had come into contact with 
the white man had at one time or other been slighted by him. 
Terms such as nigger and suar (pig) had become common in 
the vocabulary of the Englishman, the country-born Anglo-Indian, 
and the half-caste Eurasian. 

The proclamation of Prince Birjis Qadr of Oudh summed up 
the grievances: 'All Hindus and Mohammedans are aware that 
four things are dear to every man. First, religion; second honour; 
third, life; fourth, property. All these four things are safe under 
a native government — The English have become enemies of the 
four things above named.' 8 

Sporadic acts of violence had taken place in different parts 
of the country since the autumn of 1856 and continued throughout 
the following winter and spring. But when the sepoys at Meerut 
murdered their white officers on the 10 May 1857 and proceeded 

7 A retired English army officer wrote: 'The entire army of India 
amounts to 315,520 men costing £9,802,235. Out of this sum no less than 
£5,668,110 are expended on 51,316 European officers and soldiers/ The 
Mutiny of the Bengal Army, p. 25. 

8 S. N. Sen, Eighteen Fifty-seven, p. 31. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


to Delhi to proclaim Bahadur Shah emperor of Hindustan, news 
of the rising spread like wildfire and soon most of central and 
northern India stretching from Delhi to Bengal was in flames. 
Sepoys were joined by civilians in assaulting Europeans, their 
cantonments, homes, churches, and public institutions like post 
and telegraph offices. For some time the rising appeared to be 
a national revolt against a usurping foreigner. But very soon it 
became plain that there was little identity of purpose between 
the Muslim mutineers and the Hindu. The Muslims sought the 
restoration of Muslim rule; the Hindu hoped to put the Marathas 
back into power. The two communities were only united to the 
extent that they were fighting a common enemy, the English. 

The Punjab on the Eve of the Mutiny 

The situation in the Punjab was different from that which ob- 
tained in the rest of India. The Sikhs, who might well have 
gambled with the chance of recovering power, were leaderless: 
Maharajah Dalip Singh had renounced Sikhism and was assidu- 
ously trying to convert himself from a Punjabi prince into an 
English country gentleman; Sher Singh Attariwala was living 
under surveillance at Calcutta on a pension granted by the 
British; 9 Bhai Maharaj Singh and Raja Dina Nath (the only 
notable who spoke nostalgically of the old days) were dead; 10 
Bedi Bikram Singh to whom the Sikhs looked for guidance as 
a descendant of Guru Nanak was interned in his village, Una. 11 
Sikh soldiers did not share the grievances of the Hindustani 
sepoys. They were allowed to wear turbans and beards and 

9 Nevertheless, in August 1857, a police informer reported that some 
of the headmen of village Raja Jang were in treasonable correspondence 
with Sher Singh Attariwala. Punjab Government Records, Mutiny Reports, 
Vol mii, Part i, 247. 

10 On 27 April, 1857, 'death had removed in Raja Deena Nath a 
palpable thorn in our side.' F. Cooper, Crisis in the Punjab, p. 20. 

11 Punjab Government Records, Mutiny Reports, Vol. vin, Part I, 273. 
There was some excitement among the Bedis of Dera Baba Nanak, but 
it did not lead to any disturbance. Ibid., p. 294. 


Consolidation of British Power 

observe the practices of the Khalsa. If they had any ill-will, it was 
towards the Hindustani sepoy (known to Punjabis contemptu- 
ously as purabiak — easterner — or by the one name Mdtd Din) , 
who disdained to mix with the Sikhs as men of low caste. 12 

The Punjab peasantry, including the Sikhs, was content be- 
cause the harvest had been good 13 and the share demanded by 
the government as revenue was modest. 

The Board of Administration and thereafter the chief com- 
missioner, John Lawrence, had done a good job: they had 
brought peace to a land which had lived through ten years of 
chaos and bloodshed; they had regularized the legal system 
and both civil 14 and criminal courts were functioning smoothly; 
they had ruled with an iron hand but without offending the racial 

12 'The animosity between the Sikhs and the Poorbeeahs is notorious, 
and the former gave out that they would not allow the latter to pass through 
their country. It was therefore determined to take advantage of this ill- 
feeling and to stimulate it by the offer of rewards for every Hindoostanee 
sepoy who should be captured.' Ibid., Vol. vin. Part i, 234. 'The Khalsa held 
the Hindustanee in "supreme contempt and there was at least policy in 
reviving the term at this juncture, for it revived the contempt and hatred 
with which the class had ever been regarded; it widened the breach 
between the Punjabee and the Hindustanee, and rendered any coalition the 
more difficult."' Cave-Browne, The Punjab and Delhi in 1857, i, xvi. 

'Hindustani' preponderance in the civil services was as overwhelming 
as in the army, for example, of the six Indian extra assistants in Lahore 
division, Five were Poorabias. Punjab Government Records, Mutiny Reports, 
Vol. vm, Part I, 227. 

13 Ibid., Part n, 201. 

'Providence had blessed the Punjab with a golden harvest, such as 
had not been known for many long years.' F. Cooper, Crisis in the Punjab, 
p. 27. 

14 The institution of the Small Cause Court, with its cheap and 
expeditious disposal of civil suits, and the passing of a new Statute of 
Limitation in December 1856 reducing the period within which suits for 
bonded debts could be initiated from twelve to six years, brought a record 
number of suits for recovery of money. In the first four months of 1857. 
45,953 suits were instituted; 'From one end of the Punjab to^the other, the 
amount of litigation was great beyond example. The courts were thronged, 
thousands and thousands were intent on outwitting each other in forensic 
controversy.' Punjab Administration Report, 1856-58, para. 3. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


or religious susceptibilities of the people; 15 they had introduced 
social reforms; they had laid roads, built schools, hospitals and 
rest houses in a land whose only experience of foreigners — 
Turks, Mongols, Pathans, Afghans, and Marathas — had been of 
systematic plundering. 

When the mutiny broke out in Meerut on 10 May 1857, the 
army cantoned in the Punjab numbered about 60,000, of which 
considerably more than half were Hindustanis. The British 
soldiers numbered a mere 10,000. 16 

Hindustani sepoys in the Punjab were as thoroughly disaf- 
fected as other sepoys of the Company's army. In March and 
April, mysterious fires were reported in several cantonments, 
notably in those where sepoys were being trained in the use of 
the new Enfield rifle. In short, in the summer of 1857, the only 
people who could save the English in the Punjab from the wrath 
of the Hindustani sepoys, who outnumbered them by three to 
one, were the Punjabis. 17 And of the Punjabis, the one people who 
could be expected to turn a deaf ear to appeals to restore Mughal 
or Maratha rule were the Sikhs. The English fully exploited Sikh 
animosity towards Hindustani Hindus and Mussalmans. 18 

Disarming of the Sepoys and Suppression 
of the Mutiny in the Punjab 

Since the uprising had not been planned, sepoy regiments in 
the Punjab knew nothing of what had transpired at Meerut and 
Delhi on the 10 and 1 1 May 1857. On the other hand, Montgomery 
(acting in the absence of John Lawrence) received full details 

15 In June 1851, a Colonel Jiwan Singh was murdered by a drunken 
British soldier in Amritsar. Dalhousie refused to commute the sentence of 
death on the English soldier. This impressed the Punjabis, who had not 
expected the government to be impartial in a case in which a white man 
had done injury to an Indian. 

16 Punjab Government Records* Mutiny Reports, Vol. viii, Part u, 328. 

17 Cave-Browne, The Punjab and Delhi in 1857, i, 41. 

18 Punjab Government Records, Mutiny Reports, Vol. vni, Part i, 234. 


Consolidation of British Power 

by telegraph of the uprising, the proclamation of Bahadur Shah, 
and the massacre of the English population of these cities. 
Montgomery called a meeting of the senior civil and military 
officers to consider the situation, and it was decided to deprive 
the sepoys at Mian Mir of their ammunition. On the morning of 
13 May native regiments were compelled to pile arms. 19 On the 
same day, a council of war was held at Peshawar. General Reed 
assumed command in the Punjab and a movable column 20 was 
formed at Jhelum 'ready to move on every point in the Punjab 
where open mutiny required to be put down.' 

John Lawrence, who was at Rawalpindi for the first two months 
of the mutiny, kept in constant touch with his subordinates. 
He considered it most important to recapture Delhi. For this 
purpose he suggested that the troops in the hills should march 
to Ambala, and he urged the commander-in-chief to free the 
Ainbala force for action. To this end was his planning directed 21 — 
to disarm those troops whose loyalty was suspect, to raise new 

19 SC 40 of 29.5.1857. 

20 This proposal originated with Lt. Col. John Nicholson. Not only did 
the movable column put down mutiny (after the flight of the Jullundur 
mutineers) wherever it occurred but its services were also utilized in the 
disarming of native regiments. 

21 'Trust the irregulars and the natives of the Punjab generally, but 
utterly distrust the regular army. Utilise the irregulars in everyway you can. 
Bring them in from the frontier, where their work has been well done, to 
the points of danger in the interior of the country where they may have plenty 
of work of a novel kind. Add largely to the numbers of each existing 
regiment. Raise fresh regiments, as occasion may require, but do so under 
proper precautions, remembering that the weapon with which you are 
arming yourselves may, unless it is well wielded, be turned against your- 
selves. As for the regulars, watch them, isolate them, send them to 
detached frontier forts, where it will be difficult for them to act in concert. 
If any symptoms of mutiny show themselves, disarm them at once. If mutiny 
breaks fotth into act, destroy them, if possible, on the spot; and if they take 
to flight, raise the native populations against them and hunt them down. 
A few stern examples at first will save much bloodshed in the end. Find 
out the Sikh chiefs living in your respective districts and enlist their martial 
instincts and their natural hatred of the Hindustanis on your side at once.' 
Substance of address by John Lawrence. Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord 
Lazvrence, n, 42-3. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


regiments and levies, and to release every available soldier from 
the Punjab to swell the ranks of the army marching to Delhi. 

As these plans were shaping in Lawrence's mind, news came 
of the first outbreak in the Punjab at Ferozepur. Forewarned, the 
English officer-in-charge took steps to secure the magazine and 
successfully repulsed the mutineers' attack. At the same time 
the forts at Phillaur, Govindgarh, Kangra, Attock, and Multan 
were taken over; the sepoys' plan to make Phillaur a rallying 
point was thus frustrated. 22 The situation in Simla hill canton- 
ments at Jutogh, Sabathu, Dagshai, and Kasauli caused anxiety. 
Gurkha regiments refused to obey their English officers, and 
those at Kasauli looted the treasury. Their demands were 
conceded, and they were prevailed upon to return to barracks. 

As soon as news of the rising in Meerut and Delhi spread, 'a 
season of open violent crime' 23 set in the Cis-Sutlej states and 
in some towns of the Punjab, notably Ambala, Panipat, and 
Thanesar. Ranghar and Gujar tribes began to plunder in broad 
daylight. 24 Some zamindar princes of Hariana — the nawabs of 
Jhajjar and Dadree and the raja of Ballabhgarh — threw in their 
lot with the mutineers; the nawab of Loharu remained neutral. 
In eastern Punjab, although the Muslim chieftains — the nawabs 
of Karnal and Malerkotla — sided with the British, Muslim peas- 
antry was sympathetic towards the mutineers. The Hindus 
remained indifferent. The people of the Trans-Sutlej were loyal 
to the British. With a few exceptions 25 the Sikhs of both the Cis- 
Sutlej and the Trans-Sutiej, princes and peasants, expressed 
unreserved support for the British. The rajas of Jind, Patiala, 
Nabha, Kalsia, and Kapurthala, the chiefs of Malaudh, Kheri, 

22 Cave-Browne, The Punjab and Delhi in 1857, i, 120. 

23 Punjab Administration Report 1856-58, para. 14. 

24 'Every Gujar plundered as if he had been used to it all his life. Then 
began robberies in broad daylight in every thoroughfare, almost in every 
village. One village would turn out en masse to fight another.' Ibid. 

25 'There was an abortive rising at Nalagarh and Rupar which was 
promptly suppressed. One Mohar Singh, a factor of the chief of Rupar, 
whose attempt to forbid the slaughter of kine had led to some disturbance 
was executed. Punjab Government Records, Mutiny Reports, Vol. vm, Part i, 


Consolidation of British Power 

Bhadaur, and Lodhran, the Singhpurias and the Sodhis of 
Kartarpur volunteered for service. 

At the other end of the Punjab, the outbreaks at Naushera and 
Mardan 26 had put the authorities on their guard. The men at 
Peshawar were suspected of conspiring to strike during the Id 
festival; three native regiments were consequently disarmed. 
The sepoys at Mardan got wind of these moves, and some 500 
fled to Swat, 27 where they offered their services to the wali. 

John Lawrence ordered the Punjab to be sealed at either end. 
Troop concentrations were maintained on the north-west frontier 
to prevent Pathan tribes 28 and the volatile Dost Mohammed, 
amir of Afghanistan, from taking the opportunity to descend on 
the plains. Forces were posted at the south-eastern end in 
Hariana to prevent the mutineers from entering the Punjab and 
to apprehend those fleeing the province towards Delhi. In the 
Punjab itself, mobile columns of English and trustworthy Punjabis 
were ordered to round up deserters. Guards were placed on 
ferries, and high embankments were raised at points where 
rivers were fordable. 

The flame of mutiny spread to Jullundur, where officers had 
been tardy in carrying out orders to disarm the native regiments. 
The mutineers made their way to Phillaur, where they were joined 
by the 3rd regiment of native infantry and then headed for Delhi. 

26 Upwards of 100 Sikhs in the 55th regiment of native infantry volun- 
teered to fight the rest of the regiment if led by their officers (SC 5 of 
31.7.1857). Though this proposal went unheeded, it was later decided that 
Sikhs should be separated from the Hindustanis and together with Punjabi 
Mohammedans and hillmen should form the nucleus of new regiments. 

27 Civil war had broken out in Swat the same day the mutiny broke out 
in Meerut. The wali was not well disposed towards the British. 

28 'Peshawar once gone*, said a trusty Sikh chief to the magistrate of 
Amritsar, 'the whole Punjab would roll up like this', and as he spoke he 
began slowly with his finger and thumb to roll up his robe from the corner 
of the hem towards its centre. 'You know on what a nest of devils we stand,' 
writes Edwardes to the chief commissioner, 'Once let us take our foot up, 
and we shall be stung to death.' And Edwardes and his companions had 
no intention of taking their foot up, but rather of putting it down and keeping 
it there.' Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Laivrence, ii, 63. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


John Lawrence concluded that the disarming of suspected 
regiments and the escape of so many mutineers had adversely 
affected the loyalty of others. He decided to deprive the 
Hindustani sepoys of their arms irrespective of their past record 
wherever practicable. In pursuance of this policy, disarming 
took place in the Punjab cantonments including Multan and 
Phillaur. This was not effected smoothly in all cases. At Jhelum 
there was considerable bloodshed, 29 and some mutineers 
eluded their pursuers by escaping into Jammu. Two days after 
the Jhelum episode, the sepoys at Sialkot shot some of their 
officers and proceeded towards Delhi. Nicholson intercepted 
them near Trimmu Ghat on the Ravi. In the two encounters that 
followed nearly every one of the sepoys was either killed or 

The disarmed regiments at Lahore became restive. Men 
of the 26th native infantry regiment suddenly attacked their 
officers and then headed northwards along the Ravi. They were 
ambushed by a posse of constabulary and armed villagers. 
One hundred and fifty were slain in this encounter. The main 
body, which took shelter on an island, was later attacked by 
a force led by F. Cooper, deputy commissioner of Amritsar. 
Fifty were drowned or shot while trying to swim away. The 
remaining (about 280) were captured and taken to the police 
station at Ajnala village. Cooper had 237 men shot in batches 
of tens; others refused to come out of the dungeon into which 
they had been thrown. Cooper left them there for the night. The 
next morning 45 were found to have died of suffocation. 30 

29 180 were killed in two days of fighting; 116 were captured and 
executed. Cooper, The Crisis in the Punjab, p. 128. 

30 'The doors were opened and behold! They were nearly all dead! 
Unconsciously, the tragedy of Holwelf s Black Hole had been re-enacted, 
No cries had been heard during the night, in consequence of the hubbub, 
tumult and shouting of the crowds of horsemen, police, tehseel guards, and 
excited villagers. 45 bodies, dead from fright, exhaustion, fatigue* heat and 
partial suffocation, were dragged into light, and consigned, in common with 
all the other bodies, into one common pit, by the hands of the village 
sweepers.' F. Cooper, The Crisis in the Punjab, pp. 162-3. 


Consolidation of British Power 

Another 42 captured subsequently were blown away from can- 
nons. 31 

A similar tragedy was enacted on the north-west frontier. In 
the last week of August, sepoys of a disarmed regiment at 
Peshawar assaulted soldiers searching barracks for illicit arms. 
Fifty mutineers were shot; others who fled were chased and 
killed. 32 The barracks of the regiment were levelled by commis- 
sariat elephants. 

The speed with which disaffected regiments were disarmed 
and the summary justice' meted out to those whose loyalty was 
suspect spread terror and obviated all chances of rebellion 
spreading in the Punjab. The stock of the sircar rose: in bazaar 
parlance, the price of 'pearls', 'white sugar' and 'red chillies' 
(symbolic of the English) went up, while that of 'red wheat', 
'brown gar" (molasses), and 'black pepper' fell. 

31 Cooper explained the crime of the mutineers to the public who, 
according to him, 'marvelled at the clemency and the justice of the British' 
for not killing the rabble of men, women, and children who had joined the 
mutineers. Cooper, The Crisis in the Punjab, p. 163. 

Cooper's acts were commended by Lawrence and Montgomery. 'I con- 
gratulate you on your success against the 26th N.I. You and your police 
acted with much energy and spirit, and deserve well of the state. I trust, 
the fate of these sepoys will operate as a warning to others. Every effort 
should be exerted to glean up all who are at large. 

'Roberts will no doubt leave the distribution of the rewards mainly to 
you. Pray see that they are allotted with due regard to merit, and that every 
one gets what is intended for him.' (Demi-official letter from Sir John 
Lawrence dated Lahore, 2 August 1857.) 

32 Edwardes wrote: 'Almost all the 51st Native Infantry have been 
picked up and shot. More than seven hundred have been already killed. 
Four or five got to Khuddum in the Khyber, where the Hurikheyl said 
they would let them go to Kabul as Mussulmans, but not as Hindus; so 
they were converted on the spot.' Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, 
ii, 179. 

Cooper's account of the hunt of the 51st (which numbered 671 men) 
is graphic. 'Standing crops were beaten up, ravines probed, as if for 
pheasants and hares, and with great success . . . total [killed] within about 
30 hours after the mutiny, no less than 659.' F. Cooper, The Crisis in the 
Punjab, p. 177. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


Except for the incidents narrated above (and an uprising of 
the Muslim Kharal tribes around Gugiara district in Sept ember 
1857) the Punjab was not affected by the rebellion which con- 
vulsed the rest of northern India. Punjabi Mussalmans turned a 
deaf ear to their Hindustani co-religionists' exhortation to jihad 
against the pig-eating despoilers of Islam. Punjabi Hindus and, 
with greater reason, the Sikhs refused to listen to the belated 
appeal to save Hindu dharma from beef-eating foreigners who 
used cow fat to grease their cartridges. This was not surprising 
because those, who in the summer of 1857 claimed to be cru- 
saders for freedom, were the very people who eight years earlier 
had been the feringhees' instruments in reducing the Punjabis 
to servitude. 

The loyalty of the Punjabi princes and rich zamindars was 
decisive in saving the Punjab and the rest of India for the British. 
They helped to maintain order in the Punjab, kept the roads 
leading to Delhi open for movement of troops, armour, and 
treasuries, and supplied money, men, and munitions. 

Of the Punjabis, the role of the Sikhs in suppressing the up- 
rising was the most significant. Sikh soldiers defended English 
establishments and families in Allahabad, Benares, 33 Lucknow, 
Kanpur, Arrah, and other centres of revolt. Since the Meerut and 
Delhi mutineers had proclaimed the restoration of Mughal rule, 
Sikhs who had been brought up on tales of Mughal atrocities 
against their forefathers reacted sharply to Bahadur Shah's 
proclamation. The British exploited the anti-Mughal sentiment 
of the Sikhs. A new version of the sau sakhi prophesying a joint 
Anglo-Sikh conquest of Delhi was circulated. Thus the prospect 
of loot was given the sanction of prophecy; the Sikhs eagerly 
joined the Company's forces marching towards Delhi. 34 

33 There were stray cases of Sikhs joining the mutineers. In Benares, 
a battalion of 'Ludhiana Sikhs' of the 37th native infantry mutinied on 3 
June 1857. Many were killed or hanged. This triggered off a mutiny at 
Jewanpur, 70 miles from Benares. The Sikhs guarding the courthouse and 
treasury at Benares remained loyal. Hilton, The Indian Mutiny, pp. 73-5. 

34 At first John Lawrence mistrusted the Khalsa. In a note dated 18 May 
1857, he wrote: 'I do not like to raise large bodies of old Sikhs. I recollect 


Consolidation of British Power 

Sikh soldiers were in the van of the assault on Delhi, and, when 
the city capitulated on 20 September 1857, they were allowed 
to help themselves to whatever they could lay their hands on. 
Hodson with his Sikh horsemen first captured Bahadur Shah, 
Begum Zeenat Mahal, and their son Jawan Bakht. A day later 
they arrested two other sons and a grandson of the emperor. In 
the security provided by his Sikhs, Hodson ignored the presence 
of an armed mob of several thousand, stripped the three princes 
naked and shot them with his carbine. Sikhs took the corpses 
of the princes to Ghandni Chowk and laid them out for display 
in front of Gurdwara Sis Ganj, where 182 years earlier their guru, 
Tegh Bahadur, had been executed by the orders of Emperor 
Aurangzeb. The 'prophecy' of the English version of sau sakhi 
was thus fulfilled in ample measure. 

The Sikhs were handsomely rewarded for their services: the 
princes with grants of territory and palatial residences; 35 com- 
moners with loot and employment opportunities. 

their strong nationality, how completely they were demoralised for some 
twelve years before annexation, and how much they have to gain by our ruin. 
I will not therefore consent to raise levies of the old Sikhs. There is a strong 
feeling of sympathy between Sikhs and Hindus, and though I am willing 
to raise Sikhs gradually and carefully, I wish to see them mixed with 
Mohammedans and hillmen.' Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence, ii, 53. 

Gradually John Lawrence came round to the view that either the Sikhs 
would have to be fully trusted or treated as rebels; the Sikhs' readiness 
to enlist helped him to resolve his doubts. 

Sikh soldiers who were disarmed along with their Hindustani com- 
patriots at Mian Mir had, on protestations of loyalty, been separated and 
reformed into purely Sikh regiments. Sikhs belonging to regiments quar- 
tered south of Ambala, who were on leave in their homes in Majha, were 
asked to report at Lahore and were made the nuclei of new units. Cave- 
Browne, The Punjab and Delhi in 1857 y I, 228. John Lawrence invited retired 
gunners of the Durbar army to rejoin colours — which they did with alacrity 
(Ibid., p. 296). Sappers and miners were raised from Mazhabi labourers 
working on roads and canals. 

35 The princes were given additional territory, titles, and property. 
Patiala was rewarded with Narnaul division of Jhajjar, jurisdiction over 
Bhadaur, and a house belonging to Begum Zeenat Mahal in Delhi; FC 188 
of 2.7.1858. Jind was given Dadree, 13 villages in Kooleran Pargana, and 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


Sikh Recruitment in the British Army 

An important outcome of the mutiny, as far as the Sikhs were 
concerned, was that service in the armed forces was thrown open 
to them, and they became the most sought-after recruits for the 
British army. It is worthwhile recapitulating the steps by which 
this came about. 

At the end of the first Sikh war in 1846, an irregular* 6 force 
was raised out of the disbanded troops of the Durbar army. 
At the end of the second Anglo-Sikh war, this force was in- 
creased in strength and transferred to the north-west frontier; 
it came to be known as the Punjab Irregular Force and later 
the Punjab Frontier Force — the famous PifTers. In 1849, Dal- 
housie decided to take a few real Khalsas 37 into the British army. 

a house of Prince Abu Bakr in Delhi; FC 189 of 2.7.1858. Nabha was re- 
warded with the divisions of Bawal and Kami injhajjar; FC 190 of 2.7.1858. 

The transfer of Jhajjar's territories was calculated. A semi-official 
document explains the motives: 'The territories granted at the suggestion 
of the chief commissioner of the Punjab have been most judiciously 
selected from thejhujjur district. By giving the Maharajah of Puttiala a locus 
standi in that portion of the country, a friendly Hindoo power is placed in 
the midst of a turbulent Mohammedan population, and a barrier is 
interposed towards the independent states of Ulwur and Jeypoor with its 
feudatories of Shekawattee and Ketru, the population of which proved 
themselves unfriendly during the late crisis. To protect the Jhujjur border 
would require a strong frontier police, backed by a large military force, and 
this task will now be undertaken by Puttiala. The divisions of Bhawul and 
Kantee, granted to the Nabha Rajah, are adjacent to that of Narnoul 
granted to the Maharajah of Puttiala; and thus we have two staunch 
adherents on the border of our territories on whom we can place strict 
reliance.' Cave-Browne, The Punjab and Delhi in 1857, n, 243. 

The chieftains and jagirdars of districts Ambala and Thanesar were 
rewarded with remission of dues and with titles. 

36 The term 'irregular' as opposed to 'regular' was applied to units 
raised for rough and ready local work with Indians holding fairly senior 
posts and a few selected British officers in command. They were specially 
trained for guerilla warfare. 

37 It should be borne in mind that although the term 'Sikh* was used 
for the re-employed Durbar units, few were in fact Sikhs; they were largely 
Punjabi Mussalmans, Gurkhas, and Hindustanis of the Durbar army. 


Consolidation of British Power 

Although the number was very small, he was criticized for this 
action. 38 

The question of Sikh recruitment was considered by the 
governor general, the commander-in-chief, and the Board of 
Administration. Brigadier Hodgson, who had commanded the 
Sikh corps, drew up a memo on the subject which, after its 
approval, became a sort of magna carta for Sikh recruitment. 
It provided that the number of the Punjabis to be enlisted in the 
regular army should be limited for the time being to 200 per 
regiment of whom only half were to be Sikh, making the total 
number of Sikhs in the 74 regiments 7400. Recruits were to be 
under 20 years of age — thus the old Khalsa of the Durbar army 
were debarred. To make soldiering an honourable profession, 
only Jat Sikhs were enlisted; Sikhs of lower castes such as 
Mazhabis, Ramdasias, etc. were rigorously excluded. The most 
important decision taken, and one which had a far-reaching 
effect in preserving the separate identity of the Sikhs, was to 
assure the Sikhs who joined the army that the traditions of the 
Khalsa would not be interfered with. The regulation provided 

'The paol. or religious pledges of Sikh fraternity, should on 
no account be interfered with. The Sikh should be permitted to 
wear his beard, and the hair of his head gathered up, as enjoined 
by his religion. Any invasion, however slight, of these obligations 
would be construed into a desire to subvert his faith, lead to evil 
consequences, and naturally inspire general distrust and alarm. 
Even those, who have assumed the outward conventional char- 
acteristics of Sikhs should not be permitted after entering the 
British army, to drop them.' 39 

38 Baird, Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie, pp. 84—5. 

39 SC 38 of 28.2.1851. Lord Dalhousie gave his assent to these 
regulations and remarked, 'Soon after I entered the Punjab during the 
present march, I heard that Sikhs had been enlisted, but that, in compli- 
ance I presume with existing regulations, they had been required to cut off 
their beards — an act to which no real Sikh can submit; or if he for a time 
submits to it of necessity, it is impossible that he can do so without the 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


Discrimination against the Mazhabi was felt to be invidious 40 
as he was as good a fighter as the Jat. A beginning was made 
when they were recruited as labourers to build roads in moun- 
tains infested with hostile Pathan tribesmen; they also dug the 
Bari Doab Canal. The Mazhabis were treated as matl-men (earth 
workers) and given neither uniform nor arms. Their promotion 
to regular soldiering came with the mutiny. 

Sikh soldiers proved their fighting quality and loyalty in the 
Anglo-Burmese war of 1852 41 and two years later against the 
Mohmand tribe on the north-west frontier. 42 Consequently when 
the mutiny broke out the English officers were assured that Sikhs 
would not make common cause with the mutineers, and they 
selected them to replace the disbanded Poorabiah. At the same 
time, the Mazhabis were elevated from gangs of labourers to a 
corps of Pioneers. 43 

Early in May 1857, Hodson raised a unit of horse and foot 
to work with the military intelligence department and keep the 
road between Karnal and Meerut open. Hodson borrowed his 
first 100 Sikhs from the raja of Jind. He then raised three risalahs 
(cavalry) from the disbanded ghorcarahs of the old Durbar army. 
This was the origin of what later became famous as Hodson' s 
Horse. 44 Other English officers raised irregular forces of their 
own. The names of Brasyer, Rothney, and Rattray came to be 
attached to Sikh units. 

deepest discontent No true Sikh will submit to it — and the intelligence 

that such a regulation is enforced, rapidly spreading among the other Sikh 
corps in the service, may produce alarm or at best restlessness which is 
much to be deprecated. This point, therefore, should at once be set at rest/ 
SC 39 of 28.2.1851. 

40 SC 44 of 28.2.1851. 

41 Baird, Private Letters of the Marquess of Dalhousie, pp. 200-1. 

42 Ibid., p. 321. 

43 The credit for the recruitment of Mazhabis goes to Robert Mont- 
gomery, the judicial commissioner. MacMunn, The History of the Sikh Pio- 
neers, pp. 20-2. 

44 Because of their red turbans and kummerbunds on their khaki 
uniforms, Hodson' s Horse came to be known as 'The Flamingoes'. 


Consolidation of British Power 

Reviewing the course of events, British army officers after 
consulting the maharajahs of Patiala, Jind, 45 and Nabha decided 
'to trust to no race in particular ... and to mix races in our native 
army as far as practicable.' 46 The Sikhs were, however, hand- 
somely complimented for their role in suppressing the mutiny. 47 

In 1858 a commission under General Peel was appointed to 
explore the subject of reorganization of the Indian army. It 
recommended that the proportion of native to English troops 
should be fixed at two to one and that no natives should be taken 
into the artillery. The recommendations were accepted and put 
into effect straightaway. In two years, the native army was re- 
duced to 140,500 (75,300 Europeans) and by 1869 further re- 
duced to 122,000 (62,000 Europeans). The ethnic change in the 
constitution of the native army was given permanence by Lord 
Roberts (commander-in-chief, 1885-93). Some races including 
the Sikhs, Gurkhas, Dogras, Rajputs, and Punjabi Mussalmans 
were recognized as 'martial'; others including the Poorabiah, 
who had won most of the Englishman's battles in India, were 
declared 'non-martial' and unfit for military service. Of the 
martial races the favourites of English officers were the Sikhs 
and Gurkhas. 

Administrative Changes — India and the Punjab 

After the mutiny, the Court of Directors of the East India Com- 
pany was abolished and its powers transferred to Parliament. 
The Parliament appointed a secretary of state and entrusted him 
and the governor general with the administration of India. 

45 Patiala advised against raising the proportion of Punjabis to more 
than one-third of the whole of the native soldiery; Jind went further stating 
that — 'the race [Sikhs] is not entirely trustworthy 1 . SC I and 2 of 29.10.1858. 

46 SC i of 29.10.1858. 

47 'The Sikhs were raised at a most critical season when other 
recruiting grounds were in the hands of the mutineers or in a state of 
rebellion. They were called out to save the Empire and have fulfilled their 
mission, and we all owe our warmest thanks to that bold and sagacious 
policy which called them into the field and which, I am sure, will also devise 
means for keeping them under command for the future/ SC 2 of 29.10.1858. 

Sikhs and the Mutiny of 1857 


The most important administrative change as far as the 
Punjab was concerned was the adhesion of Hariana and Delhi 
to the province. The new districts were inhabited by a people who 
did not speak Punjabi nor have the Punjabi's spirit of enterprise. 
Their way of life and their values were as different from those 
of the Punjabis as their economy. Most of Hariana was a desert 
woefully deficient in food. And Delhi was a commercial city with 
little in common with pastoral Punjab. This misalliance created 
difficulties for subsequent governments. 

The st atus of the administrative head of the Punjab was raised 
from chief commissioner to lieutenant governor. John Lawrence 
occupied the post for a month. He was succeeded by Robert 

By the Indian Councils Act of 1861, the number of Indians on 
the governor general's council was increased. The services 
rendered by the Sikhs in the mutiny were recognized by the 
nomination of the maharajah of Patiala to this council. 

7. Crescat E Fluviis 1 

After the mutiny, the government resumed the work of re- 
claiming the desert and opening up the country by a net- 
work of roads and rail lines. The Hasli Canal was extended. The 
Ravi was tapped from the place it entered the plains, and a canal 
was dug which, after traversing the districts of Amritsar and 
Lahore, fell back into the parent stream above Multan. This was 
accomplished in 1861 and came to be known as the Upper Bari 
Doab Canal, 

Ten years later the waters of the Jumna were similarly 
canalized. The Western Jumna Canal watered the southern 
districts of Ambala, Karnal, Hissar, and Rohtak. 

In the years 1886-8 an attempt was made to reclaim the 
desert surrounding Multan. Water was taken from the Sutlej, and 
177,000 acres of barren land were brought under the plough. The 
experiment was not a success as the canals could not guarantee 
a perennial flow of water. The mistakes made in Multan were 
turned to profit by both engineers and colonizers when four years 
later (1892) over a million acres were irrigated with the waters 
of the Chenab. 2 

The success of the Chenab Colony was followed by the equally 
successful irrigation of the Shah pur Thai desert (in 1892 and 
1897) by the waters of the Jhelum. 

1 'Strength from the waters' — the motto of the Punjab. 

2 In 1922 the Lower Chenab Canal irrigated 2W million acres of land 
M. Darling, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, p. 150. 

Crescat E Fluviis 


The most daring of all irrigation schemes was the Triple 
Project, begun in 1905 and completed twelve years later. This 
project was chiefly designed to bring water to Montgomery (the 
district named after Sir Robert). Since the Ravi, which ran 
through the district, had already been tapped by the Upper Bari 
Doab Canal and had no more water to spare, the plan was to 
feed the Ravi with the waters of the Jhelum and the Chenab and 
then 'milk' it for Montgomery. The Upper Jhelum Canal took the 
waters of the Jhelum and, after irrigating 350,000 acres of the 
Chaj Doab, fell into the Chenab. The Upper Chenab Canal then 
took off from the Chenab and, after irrigating 650,000 acres of 
the Rechna Doab in the districts of Gujranwala and Sheikhupura, 
joined the Ravi, where a 'level crossing' of a 550-yard barrage 
helped the water to cross to the other side. The third of the Triple 
Project canals, the Lower Bari Doab, then took off, ran 134 miles 
through Montgomery into Multan and back into the Ravi. 3 

The digging of these canals was accompanied by a massive 
rehabilitation of the desert lands. Till then the doabs had been 
scenes of 'unparalleled desolation ... miles of dry and barren 
waste, dotted with sparse scrub jungle and stunted trees, but 
devoid of any whisper of life'. 4 The indigenous inhabitants of 
these intrafluvial mesopotamias — the cattle-stealing nomads — 
were compelled to settle in villages and direct their energies to 
lawful occupations. 

The area specifically chosen for the Sikhs was a tract known 
as niti bar, irrigated by the Chenab Canal. 5 Colonization officers 

3 The Triple Project was designed by Sir John Benton. 

4 Paper by Sir J. Douie, 7 May 1914, Royal Society of Arts, London. An 
anecdote current at the time was that the lieutenant governor and his senior 
officers were visiting one of the bars and were doubtful whether farmers 
could be persuaded to settle on the inhospitable land even if canals were 
laid out. They consulted an old Punjabi farmer who replied: 'Sirs, I see no 
flies here. But if you put some sugar here, you will soon have flies and if 
you put water on the land you will not lack colonists.' 

5 From the Chenab were taken 427 miles of canal, 2280 miles of 
distributory channels, and 12,000 miles of water course. These cultivated 
2V2 million acres of land. The total outlay was 26 million rupees. The revenue 
yield was 34 per cent of the capital. The yearly value of the irrigated crop 
was more than 78 million rupees, that is, three times the cost of the canal. 


Consolidation of British Power 

scoured Sikh villages in the districts of Amritsar, Ludhiana, 
and Ferozepur to pick up the best farmers. The colonists 
were divided into three categories. At the bottom were common 
peasants, who were granted between 14 to 16 acres free of cost. 
The next grade were yeomen, who were given 111 to 139 acres 
on payment of a nazrana of Rs 6 to 9 per acre. On top came the 
'capitalists' with 167 to 556 acres who had to pay Rs 10 to 20 
per acre. The settlers were given 'heritable and inalienable 
rights of occupancy'. The vast majority of the Sikh colonists were 
Malwa Jats with a sprinkling of non-Jat agriculturist tribes — 
Kambohs, Labanas, and Mazhabis. 

The colonists got to work with great zeal. What had been a 
great expanse of yellow sand became within a couple of years 
a flourishing country of cornfields and villages. 6 Special grants 
were made to set up 'remount depots' (stud farms for horses 
and mules for the army) and later for select breeds of cattle. 

The production from the new lands was far in excess of the 
requirements of the province, and the first harvest rotted in 
storehouses. The building of railways and feeder roads was 
speeded up. In 1861 a beginning had been made by linking 
Lahore and Amritsar by rail. In the next thirty years a criss-cross 
of rail lines was laid across the province connecting the canal 
colonies with the cities of India. Wheat, cotton, 7 and oilseeds 

6 The financial commissioner's review claimed: 'Cultivation has now 
become more careful; comfortable and commodious houses have been 
built; all villages have now a good well, many of them have a mosque or 
a dharamsala and a rest house; the growth of good shade-giving trees is 
remarkable, both in villages and fields. Many villages are a pattern of 
cleanliness and comfort, and the people evidently take pride in them and 
their imposing houses of brick and mortar. There are of course, some 
exceptions among 100,000 colonists, but the general impression is one of 
great prosperity, comfort and content, from which a feeling of gratitude 
to government for the extraordinary benefits its colonization scheme has 
conferred on these fortunate individuals in the short space of fifteen years 
is not absent.' Civil and Military Gazette, 26 May 1909. 

7 The first attempt to erect a cotton mill in the Punjab was made in 
March 1883, when citizens of Lahore met under the chairmanship of Raja 
Harbans Singh to consider the matter. Tribune, 18 March 1883. 

Crescat E Fluviis 


from the Punjab were taken by rail to Bombay and Karachi to 
be exported: the export of wheat alone reached over a million 
tons a year. The price of land, which at the time of annexation 
had been only Rs 10 an acre, rose to over Rs 400 per acre in 
the new colonies. 8 The Punjabis became the most prosperous 
peasantry of India; and, of the Punjabis, the Sikhs became the 
most prosperous of all. 

The prosperity ushered in by the development of the canal 
colonies and the preference shown towards the Sikhs in recruit- 
ment to the imperial army had an important bearing on the 
future and the caste complex of the community. The economic 
advantages of being Sikh checked the disintegration of Sikhism 
and its lapse into Hinduism. On the contrary, the last decade 
of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th, saw a 
phenomenal rise in the numbers of Sikhs. 9 This was due largely 
to the patronage of the government, which required posts re- 
served for Sikhs in the army (and later in the civilian services) 
to be filled exclusively by the kesadhari Khalsa. This patronage 
paved the way for the success of the proselytization movement, 
the Singh Sabha (discussed in Chapter 9). Thus the gloomy 
foreboding of Lord Dalhousie 10 of the possibility of the disap- 
pearance of the Sikhs was staved off by policies initiated by 
Dalhousie himself and supplemented by army commanders and 
administrators of the Punjab. 

The proportion of Sikhs in the imperial army was considerably 
more than that warranted by their numbers. Of the total strength 
from the Punjab of 42,560 at the turn of the century, 20,060 were 
Muslims, 11,612 Hindus, and 10,867 Sikhs. 11 (There were an- 
other 4122 Sikhs in the armies of the Punjab states.) In other 
words, the Sikhs, who formed only a little more than 12 per cent 
of the population of the Punjab, constituted about 25 per cent 
of its army. Of the Sikh soldiery, the largest number were Jats 

8 H. Calvert, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab, p. 219. 

9 See footnote on p. 146. 

10 See p. 96. 

11 P. H. Kaul, Census of India, 1911, Vol. xiv, Punjab, Part n, Tables, 
pp. 438-9. 


Consolidation of British Power 

(6666 in the imperial army; 1845 in the armies of native states). 
The Mazhabis came next with 1626. Preference for Jats stabi- 
lized their position at the top of the caste hierarchy among the 
Sikhs. This upward mobility of Sikh Jats (considered as sudras, 
the lowest of the four castes of Hindus) had begun in the time 
of Guru Gobind Singh, when a large majority of those baptized 
were Jats. It was the baptized kesadhari Jats who had been the 
chief instruments of the Sikh rise to power and consequently 
became the land-owning aristocracy during the rule of Mahara- 
jah Ranjit Singh. Under British rule, Jats maintained their 
position as the premier caste among the Sikhs — superior to the 
Brahmins, the Kshatriyas (from whom the gums had sprung), 
and the Vaishyas. This position was not achieved by Muslim or 
Hindu Jats in their respective communities. 

A similar upward mobility was evident with respect to the 
Mazhabi and Ranghreta Sikhs — and for the same reason, viz. 
recruitment in the army and the acquisition of land. 12 Apart from 
tradition, the real cause of the denigration of these castes was 
their occupation as scavengers (cuhras) or skinners of carrion 
(camdrs). With new avenues of employment, many belonging to 
these castes abandoned their hereditary callings to become 
soldiers or farmers — and began to lay claim to equal status with 
other soldiers and farmers. Although they did not wholly succeed 
in erasing the stigma of low caste, they did succeed in winning 
a better place in Sikh society than untouchables who remained 
Hindus or Muslims. 

12 For a detailed analysis of the caste structure among the Sikhs with 
special reference to the upward mobility of the Jats and the untouchable 
castes see Marenco, Caste and Class among the Sikhs of North West India. 



The climate of the Orient has always been productive of rnes- 
siahs and prophets. Every age has had its quota of men claiming 
kinship or communion with God; some even professing to be His 
human reincarnations. 

The Sikhs have had their share of messiahs; the messianic 
pattern was, however, Sikh-oriented. The gums had assured 
their disciples that no one could attain salvation without the 
mediation of a teacher. Consequently Gobind Singh's declara- 
tion that the line of human gurus was at an end and thereafter 
the Sikhs should look for guidance tp the Adi Grahth was ignored 
by many of the succeeding generations; and the sau sakhl was 
forged to sanctify pretensions of prophethood. 

The first two sects dealt with in the following pages were born 
out of the changing fortunes of the Sikhs: out of their rise from 
rustic poverty to sovereign opulence; and then out of their 
reduction to a subject people under an alien race. In the first 
phase, power produced wealth and wealth irreligiousness; in the 
second phase, the loss of power roused passion to recreate the 
golden age that had passed. The Nirankaris and the Namdharis 
exemplify these themes. 


Social and Religious Reform 

The Radha Soamis stand apart as a non-denominational group 
born of the impact of Sikhism (minus the Khalsa tradition) on 
Hinduism. It illustrates the sort of melange of Hinduism and 
Sikhism which is gaining currency in educated circles of both 

More important than the three sects mentioned above was the 
religious-cum-social movement which went under the name 
Singh Sabha. On the religious plane, it remained true to the 
orthodox tradition of 'no guru save the Grahth'; on the social, it 
met the challenge of modern times with modern weapons. 

The first task was to adapt the Sikhs to the post-annexation 
situation. The annexation had reduced the Sikhs from a position 
of dominance to one of subservience not only to the British but 
also to the Muslims and the Hindus, who considerably out- 
numbered them. This sense of numerical inferiority was accen- 
tuated by the fact that, while the annexation brought the Punjab 
Muslims and Hindus into direct contact with their more enlight- 
ened Indian co-religionists, the Sikhs of the annexed territories 
were only reunited to their Malwai brethren, who were even less 
educated than themselves. The Sikhs had no option but to turn 
to their rulers for guidance. Under the auspices of the Singh 
Sabha, the Sikhs sought and won the collaboration of English 
officials in their drive for literacy. 

The second task was to preserve their identity. The annexation 
exposed the dispirited and leaderless Sikh masses to the preach- 
ing of Christian missionaries and the proselytizing activities of 
the Hindu Arya Samajists. The Singh Sabha met this challenge 
by reviving interest in Sikh religion and tradition. 

8, Religious Movements 

The Nirankaris 

During the reign of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the Hindus of 
western Punjab and Derajat came under the influence of 
Sikhism. A few accepted the pahul and joined the Khalsa frater- 
nity; most others continued to describe themselves as Hindus 
but gave up the worship of Hindu gods and the recitation of the 
Vedas, instead reading the Granth and joining Sikh congre- 
gations at the gurdwaras. Among these Hindus there grew a 
custom of bringing up at least one son as a kesadhari Sikh. This 
half-Hindu, half-Sikh community belonged to the Khatri, Arora, 
or Bania castes. They continued to marry within their castes 
regardless of the change in their religious beliefs. 

Dyal Das (d.1855), a bullion merchant of Peshawar, belonged 
to this Hindu-Sikh community. He condemned idol worship and 
making obeisance to 'holy' men; he disapproved of going on 
pilgrimages and performing Brahmanical ritual. The positive 
aspect of his teaching was that God was formless — nirankar 
(hence the futility of worshipping idols or 'saints 1 ); consequently 
he described himself as a nirankari. He coined the phrase: 

dhan nirankar 

deh dhdri sab khwar 

Praise be to the Formless Creator; 
Worship of mortals is of no avail. 


Social and Religious Reform 

Dyal Das soon acquired the status of a guru and gathered 
around him disciples who, like him, described themselves as 
Nirankaris. They ran into opposition first from Hindu Brahmins 
and, after Dyal Das moved from Peshawar to Rawalpindi, from 
the Bedi descendants of Guru Nanak, who had a large following 
in the district. The Nirankaris were ostracized by both the 
Hindus and the Sikhs and had to build their own places of 
worship. The biggest was raised on the banks of the stream 
Layee four miles outside Rawalpindi. When Dyal Das died, his 
sandals became an object of veneration. They were placed on 
an altar alongside the Granth, and the temple on the Layee was 
named after him as Dayalsar. It became the headquarters of the 
Nirankari sect. 

Dyal Das was succeeded by the eldest of his three sons, 
Darbara Singh. Darbara Singh built new centres (birds) for the 
Nirankaris and began the practice of issuing encyclicals 
(hukumnamas) for the instruction of his followers. His chief 
contribution was to standardize rituals connected with births, 
marriages, 1 and deaths. These rituals were a departure from the 
Hindu tradition inasmuch as they were based on the Granth 
and not on the Hindu sacred texts. Darbara Singh (d.1870) was 
succeeded by his youngest brother, Rattan Chand (d.1909), and 
Rattan Chand by his son Gurdit Singh (d.1947). The present 
head of the Nirankaris is Gurdit Singh's son, Hara Singh. 

Various estimates of the numbers of the sect have been 
made. 2 The Nirankaris themselves claim a following of nearly 
100,000 comprised mainly of non-Jat Sikhs and Hindus of the 
Arora Zargar (goldsmith) and Kshatriya castes. 3 Until 1947, 
their influence was restricted to Sikh and Hindu communities 

1 The Nirankaris claim that they were the first to introduce the Anand 
marriage which is performed by circumambulating the Granth. The Anand 
Marriage Act legalizing such marriages was passed in 1909. 

2 The census of 1891 records the number of Nirankaris as 50,724, of 
which 11,817 were Sikhs and 38,907 Hindus. Captain A. H. Bingley in his 
Handbook for the Indian Army estimates the total figure of Nirankaris at 

3 Information supplied by Dr Man Singh, son of the Nirankari guru. 

Religious Movements 


of the North-West Frontier Province and Kashmir. After the 
partition of India, Dayalsar was abandoned, and the centre was 
shifted first to Amritsar and then to Chandigarh, the new capital 
of east Punjab. 

The differences between orthodox Sikhism and the Nirankaris 
are limited to the latter' s worship of gurus other than the ten 
recognized by the Sikhs. Nirankaris style Dyal Das and his 
successors with honorifics such as sri satguru (the true guru) and 
sri hazur sahib (his holy eminence). They also disapprove of the 
militant Khalsa. 4 The Nirankaris are fast losing their separate 
identity and may, within a few decades, merge back into the 
Hindu or Sikh parent body. The importance of the movement lies 
largely in the fact that it initiated ceremonial rites which incul- 
cated among the Sikhs a sense of separateness and thus 
checked the process of their absorption into Hinduism. 

Radha Soamis of Beas 

The founder of the Radha Soami sect was a Hindu banker, Shiv 
Dayal (1818-78), of Agra. Shiv Dayal was greatly influenced by 
the teachings of the Adi Grarith, and he propounded a doctrine 
which contained elements of both Hinduism and Sikhism. He 
described God as the union between radha (symbolizing the 
soul) and Soami, the Master; hence himself as a worshipper of 

4 Two of the four Nirankari gurus were not baptized as Khalsa, and 
Nirankaris substitute the word ' ' nirankai for l sri bhagwatt (the sword) in 
the invocation recited at the end of prayer because, say the Nirankaris, 
bhagtvati is also the name of a Hindu goddess. The only other point of 
difference from orthodox Sikhs is in their form of greeting, which is dhan 
nirankar instead of the orthodox sat sri akdi 

5 Shiv Dayal 's beliefs are set out in his book Sar Bacan (Essential 
Utterances) and can be briefly summarized as follows: 

Human beings, who are the highest of God's creation, are afflicted with 
sorrow because they have been unable to achieve the perfection of which 
they are capable; such perfection can only be attained under the guidance 
of a guru who can give diksa — the secret formula — consisting of instructions 
in physical and mental discipline to achieve samadhi (meditation). The 


Social and Religious Reform 

Radha Sodml 5 Shiv Dayal attracted a following of Hindus and 
Sikhs and became the first guru of the sect. On his death, the 
Radha Soamis split into two: the main centre was at Agra; 6 a 
branch started by a Sikh disciple, Jaimal Singh 7 (1839-1913), 
was on the bank of river Beas, not very far from Amritsar, 

The Beas Radha Soamis soon became independent of the 
Agra centre and had a succession of gurus — all Sikhs — of their 
own. On Jaimal Singh's death, one of his disciples, Sawan Singh 
Grewal, an engineer, became the head of the Punjab Radha 
Soamis. Sawan Singh enlarged the Beas centre and named it 
Dera Baba Jaimal Singh. During Sawan Singh's tenure, the 
number of Beas Radha Soamis increased rapidly. Besides 
Sikhs, who formed the nucleus, they included Hindus, Muslims, 
Parsis, and Christians. Sawan Singh (d.1948) was succeeded by 
Jagat Singh, a retired professor of agriculture. After a short term 
of three years, Jagat Singh (d.1951) nominated Charan Singh 
Grewal (a grandson of Sawan Singh) as his successor. Under 

human body is divided into two separate compartments: the higher which 
is above the eyes is the seat of the soul; and the baser which is below the 
eyes is controlled by the mind. Realization of God comes by reproducing 
the image of the guru at a spot between the eyes (siv netra) and repetition 
of sabd (the word) or nam (name of the Lord). This practice is known as 
the surat sabd yoga, or the union (yoga) of the soul (surat) with the sound 
current (sabd). The company of truthful people (satsang) is essential. (The 
organization is known as the Radha Soami Satsang.) 

6 Shiv Dayal died in 1878 and was succeeded at Agra by Rai Saligram 
Saheb Bahadur (1828-98). Rai Saligram composed religious verse of 
which two anthologies, Prem Bant and Prem Patr, are the better known. He 
also wrote An Exposition of the Radha Soami Doctrine in English. 

The third guru of the Agra Radha Soamis was a Bengali Brahmin, 
Brahma Sankar Misra (1861-1907). After Misra the Agra Radha Soamis 
broke up into different factions. Today they have a flourishing industrial 
estate in a suburb called Dayalbagh. The Agra centre is more of economic 
than religious importance. 

7 Jaimal Singh was a Sikh Jat from village Ghuman (district Gurdaspur) . 
He was a soldier in the forces of the East India Company and met Shiv 
Dayal while he was posted in Agra. On retirement from active service, he 
returned to the Punjab and set up a Radha Soami centre on the left bank 
of the Beas. 

Religious Movements 


Charan Singh's leadership — he is an educated man with great 
charismatic charm — the Beas Radha Soamis have grown into a 
community of substantial proportions: over 100,000 followers 
assemble to celebrate the birthdays of their gurus. They claim 
the adherence of a million men and women of different nation- 
alities and denominations. 8 

The Beas Radha Soamis have some basic differences with 
orthodox Sikhism. They believe in a living guru, who initiates 9 
the disciples, who thereupon become guru bhals or guru bahins 
(brothers-in-faith or sisters-in-faith) and greet each other with 
the words 'radha soami\ Radha Soami temples do not have the 
Granth Sahib but only a raised platform where the guru sits to 
deliver a discourse. They have no kirtan because they believe 
that music diverts people's minds from the meaning of the 
hymns to the simple enjoyment of sound. And, although the 
Radha Soami gurus of Beas as well as their Sikh adherents 
remain kesadhari, they do not believe in pahul (baptism) nor in 
the militant vows of the Khalsa. 

Although the Radha Soamis owe much to Sikhism — their 
gurus' discourses are largely drawn from the Adi Granth — it 
would be wrong to describe them as a sub-sect of Sikhism. The 
only justification for treating them along with other Sikh religious 
movements is their close resemblance to the sahajdharis. The 
sahajdharis nominally accept the teachings of all the ten gurus 
and keep up the fiction that in due course they will be baptized 
as the Khalsa. The Radha Soamis only accept the teachings of 
the first five gurus contained in the Adi Granth and reject the 
rest. The Radha Soamis present a new version of sahajdhari 
Sikhism. Their faith has considerable attraction for the reli- 
giously-inclined educated classes, for the Hindu-oriented Sikh, 
and the Sikh-oriented Hindu. 

8 It is impossible to verify the number as the Radha Soamis do not form 
a distinct and separate sect and are not therefore listed in the census. 

9 Radha Soami initiation involves certain vows, for example, strict 
vegetarianism, abstinence from alcohol, and two and a half hours of 
meditation every day. 


Social and Religious Reform 

Namdhari or Kuka Movement 

The Namdhari sect was founded by Balak Singh, 10 of village 
Hazro in the north-west frontier region. Balak Singh had been 
inspired by the sermons of onejawahar Mai, 11 who preached the 
virtues of poverty and denounced the rich as godless. Balak 
Singh followed suit by exhorting his followers to live simply and 
practise no religious ritual other than repeating God's name or 
nam (hence namdhari)} 2 It was Balak Singh's personality more 
than the substance of his sermons that induced his followers to 
look upon him as a reincarnation of Guru Gobind Singh. Before 
Balak Singh died he chose one of his most ardent disciples, the 
carpenter Ram Singh, 13 as his successor. The headquarters of 
the Namdharis shifted from Hazro to Ram Singh's village 
Bhaini in Ludhiana district. 

Ram Singh introduced some changes in the forms of wor- 
ship, appearance, and form of address which distinguished his 
followers from the rest of the Sikhs. Following his example, his 

10 Balak Singh (1797-1862) was the son of a goldsmith of village 
Sarvala (district Attock) who later shifted his business to Hazro. They were 
Aroras of the Batra sub-caste. 

11 Jawahar Mai, known for his piety as sain sahib, was the son of Dayal 
Chand, of village Sarai Saleh near Haripur. Dayal Chand, though a 
Vaishnavite Hindu, was strongly drawn to the simple tenets of the Sikh faith. 
He started to expound the Grarith and drew large crowds to his centre. 
Dayal Chand came to be known as 'Bhagat,' and thereafter his descendants, 
who are of the Kalal caste, styled themselves as 'Bhagats'. In 1847 Jawahar 
Mai opened a centre for divine worship entitled the Jagiasi Abhiasi Asram. 

12 Namdharis were to rise at 3 a.m., brush their teeth, and bathe. They 
were ordered to live simply and thriftily. The destruction of female children 
was rigorously forbidden — so also was the giving or accepting of dowries. 
Namdharis were enjoined to live on their earnings and forbidden to beg 
for alms. Tobacco, snuff, and alcohol were taboo. Meat was also excluded 
from the diet of the Namdharis. 

13 Ram Singh (1816-85) was a Ramgarhia of village Bhaini (Ludhiana 
district). He was in the Durbar's artillery and met Balak Singh when his 
unit was posted on the frontier. When Sikh artillery was disbanded after 
the first Anglo-Sikh war. Ram Singh came to live at Hazro. On the 
annexation of the Punjab, he returned to Bhaini and resumed his ancestral 
profession and the preaching of Balak Singh's message. 

Religious Movements 


disciples chanted hymns and, like dancing dervishes, worked 
themselves into a state of frenzy and emitted loud shrieks 
(kuks): they came therefore to be named Kukas. The Knkas wore 
only white handspun cloth; they bound their turbans in a style of 
their own (flat across the forehead instead of forming an angle) ; 
they wore necklaces of woollen rosaries; they carried staves in 
their hands; and they greeted each other with sat akdl purakh 
instead of the customary sat sri akdl Although most of the Kukas 
came from the poorer classes of Ramgarhias, Jats, cobblers, 
and Mazhabis, Ram Singh made them feel as if they were the 
elect — the saintly sant FJialsd — while the others were mlecha 
(unclean) . Ram Singh issued hukumnamas to his followers which 
embraced ethical, social, hygienic, as well as political matters. 14 
Ram Singh's religious discourses began to have a political 
flavour. When he administered pahul, besides the usual sermon 
delivered on such occasions, Ram Singh spoke of the wicked- 
ness of the Sikh princes and landowners; of the assumption of 
guruship by the Bedi and Sodhi descendants of the gurus; of the 
wickedness of idolatry and casteism. 15 Despite his criticism of 

14 Ethical: Do not lie, steal or commit adultery. Personal: Do not imbibe 
tobacco, alcohol or meat of any kind. Wear turbans flat across the 
forehead. Social: Do not destroy or trade in female children; do not give 
girls under eight in marriage; do not give or take large dowries (Ram Singh 
performed mass marriages of his followers in village Khote in 1863. He 
forbade his followers to spend more than Rs 13 at a wedding). Do not lend 
or borrow money on interest: Do not castrate bulls; protect cows and other 
animals from slaughter. Hygienic: Rise before dawn and bathe every day; 
(pray and tell beads of rosaries made of wool). Political: Do not accept 
service with government; do not send children to government schools; do 
not go to courts of law but settle disputes by reference to pahcayats; do 
not use foreign goods; do not use government postal services. 

15 'Gobind Singh's (Jranth is the only true one, written by imagination, 
and is the only sacred writing extant. Gobind Singh is the only true guru. 
Any person, irr espective of caste or religion, can be admitted a convert. 
He said Sodhis, Bedis, mahahts, Brahmins and such like are impostors, 
as none are gurus except Gobind Singh. Temples of Devi, Shiva, are a 
means of extortion, to be held in contempt and never visited. Idols and idol- 
worship are insulting to God, and will not be forgiven. Converts are allowed 
to read Gobind Singh's Granth, and no other book.' Mr Kinchant's descrip- 
tion of the Kuka Articles of Belief, 1863. Papers Relating to the Kuka Sect. 


Social and Religious Reform 

many Hindu practices, Ram Singh became an ardent protector 
of the cow. 

Ram Singh had separate gurdwaras built for his followers. He 
appointed subas (governors) who collected funds which were 
remitted to Bhaini. He arranged for the training of young men 
in the use of weapons and built up a paramilitary organization. 
The Kukas had their own postal runners to carry secret mes- 

By 1863, Ram Singh had a well-knit following of several 
thousands. A new version of the sau sakhi was circulated. It 
prophesied the rebirth of Guru Gobind Singh in the person of 
one Ram Singh, carpenter of village Bhaini, who would resurrect 
the Khalsa, drive the English out of Hindustan, and establish a 
new Sikh dynasty. Ram Singh ordered his followers to assemble 
at Amritsar for the Baisakhi festival to listen to a special 
proclamation. The fact that this was exactly what Guru Gobind 
Singh had done at Anandpur when he baptized the Khalsa could 
not have been lost on the Kukas. 

Ram Singh arrived in Amritsar and found the city bristling 
with police. He was unable to make his proclamation. On his 
return to Bhaini, he was served with a notice forbidding him 
to leave the village. He complained that he had been victimized 
by 'government bodies, Brahmins and many other people....' 16 
Ram Singh remained under surveillance till the government had 
assured itself that the Kukas would cause no disturbance. 

On the Dussehra festival in the autumn of 1867, Ram Singh 
visited Amritsar with nearly 3500 of his followers. He was 
received with honour at the Harimandir and other shrines and 
baptized over 2000 Sikhs, including members of some well-to- 
do families of zamindars. By this time Ram Singh had acquired, 
perhaps without any volition on his part, the status of secular 
chief. He travelled with a bodyguard of soldiers and, like a 
prince, held court every day. He exchanged presents with 
several ruling chiefs and sent a mission to Nepal. 

16 Letter to Bhagat Jawahar Mai, October 1865, quoted by Ganda Singh, 
Kukian di Vithid, p. 59. 

Religious Movements 


Kukas who had been fed on prophecies of a Sikh resurgence 
could not remain quiescent for too long. But when it came to 
making an issue, they fastened on a matter which barely touched 
the sentiments of the Sikh masses, viz. protection of cows. And 
on this issue too they chose to vent their spleen on Muslim but- 
chers rather than on the English. Their collision with the authori- 
ties came as a result of their attempt to stop the slaughter of kine. 

Kuka fanatics murdered some Muslim butchers and their 
families in Amritsar and later at Raikot (Ludhiana district). 17 
For these crimes, eight Kukas were hanged and others sen- 
tenced to long terms of imprisonment. 18 The government reim- 
posed orders restricting Ram Singh to his village and forbade 
the assemblage of Kukas at religious festivals. But Kuka pas- 
sions had been inflamed, and, on the Maghi festival in January 
1872, they flocked in the hundreds to Bhaini. Speeches were 
made extolling the heroism of the men who had been hanged. 
It was also bruited about that the time prophesied by the sau 
sakhi for the restoration of Sikh power was at hand. Ram Singh 
had some difficulty in persuading his followers to return peace- 
fully to their homes. However, one band decided to ignore their 
guru's advice and to attack Malerkotla, a Muslim state where 
slaughter of cows was permitted. 

On the way to Malerkotla the gang raided the house of the Sikh 
zamindar of Malaudh to acquire arms. They were engaged by 
the zamindar's retainers and, when they entered Malerkotla, by 
the state constabulary. L. Cowan, the deputy commissioner of 
Ludhiana, joined the pursuit and captured 68 of the band. Cowan 

17 In November 1871, J. W. MacNab, commissioner of Ambala, was 
asked to make a report on the Kukas. MacNab was convinced that Ram 
Singh had instigated the murders of the butchers and recommended 
criminal proceedings against him. No action was taken on MacNab 's report. 

18 Crown vs. Fateh Singh and others. Judgment of the Punjab chief court, 
dated 9.9.1871 (reference 53) and Crown vs. Mastan Singh and others. 
Judgment of the Punjab Chief Court dated 1.8.1871. See also Dr Ganda 
Singh's letter on the subject in The Spokesman of 29 June 1964. 

Among those who were executed was one Gyani Rattan Singh, a zamindar 
of Patiala, who was held in great esteem by the Kukas and believed by them 
to have been innocent. 


Social and Religious Reform 

sent a note to his commissioner, T. D. Forsythe, and without any 
formality blew up 66 of the prisoners by tying them to the mouths 
of cannons. 19 

Kuka headquarters at Bhaini were searched: only a few 
kirpans, hatchets, and a pair of ornamental khukries were found. 
Ram Singh and eleven of his followers were arrested and 
deported to Burma. 20 

Forsythe then joined Cowan at Malerkotla, where another 16 
Kukas were blasted off by cannons. Subsequently, the party went 
to Malaudh, where four Kukas were in custody. Forsythe relented 
and sentenced them to life imprisonment. 21 

19 'The gang of rebels, for no other name will adequately characterise 
them, never numbered more than 125: of these there were at Malodh 2 
killed, 4 captured; at Kotla 8 killed, 31 wounded. Of those wounded, 25 or 
26 escaped at the time; but 68, including 27 wounded, have been captured 
in the Patiala state.... The entire gang has thus been nearly destroyed. 1 
propose blowing away from guns, or hanging, the prisoners tomorrow 
morning at daybreak. Their offence is not an ordinary one. They have not 
committed mere murder and dacoity; they are open rebels, offering con- 
tumacious resistance to constituted authority, and, to prevent the spreading 
of the disease, it is absolutely necessary that repressive measures should 
be prompt and stern, I am sensible of the great responsibility I incur; but 
I am satisfied that I act for the best, and that this incipient insurrection must 
be stamped out at once.' Parliamentary Papers an the Kuka Outbreak, p. 11. 

The commissioner, T. D. Forsythe, who had earlier advised Cowan not 
to be too hasty, supported the action of his deputy. He wrote: 'My dear 
Cowan, I fully approve and confirm all you have done. You have acted 
admirably. I am coming out.' Letter dated 18 January 1872. Ibid., p. 53. 

20 Forsythe wrote: 'The complicity of Ram Singh in the outrages 
committed by his followers at Malodh and in the state of Malerkotla has 
not yet been thoroughly inquired into; and it is a fact that he reported to 
the police the intention of Lehna Singh and Hera Singh, the chief actors 
in the present case, to commit outrages. But by his own admission his 
followers make use of his name and take advantage of his presence among 
them to call on their fellows to commit murders and create disturbances.' 
Letter dated 18 January 1872, Ibid., p. 12. 

21 There was strong criticism in the Anglo-Indian press of the barbarous 
action taken by Cowan. The Government of India ordered an enquiry, as 
a result of which Cowan was dismissed and Forsythe was transferred to 
a post outside the Punjab. 

Religious Movements 


Whatever little sympathy the Sikhs may have had with the 
revivalist aspect of the Namdhari movement was forfeited by the 
resoit to violence against poor Muslims and the defiance of the 
administration. The community was strongly pro-British, and 
Sikh leaders took the earliest opportunity to reaffirm their 
loyalty. The rnaharajah of Patiala ordered the arrest of all Kukas 
in his state. 22 A meeting of Sikh sardars in Amritsar presented 
an address to the lieutenant governor describing the Kukas as 
a 'wicked and misguided sect' who 'by their misconduct and evil 
designs' had injured the honour of the Sikh community in the 
estimation of the government, 'and well-nigh levelled with the 
dust the services we [i.e. the Sikhs] had rendered to the govern- 
ment, such as those for instance performed in 1857 — ' 23 

After some years in gaol, Ram Singh was allowed to receive 
visitors as well as to communicate with his followers. Once again 
he toyed with the idea of fomenting revolution in the Punjab. His 
followers discovered more copies of the sau sakhi 24 predicting 
a Russian invasion of India and the founding of the dynasty of 
Ram Singh. Ram Singh sent an emissary to Russia to elicit 
help; 25 but the mission produced no results. He also realized that 
the Sikhs were unwilling to revolt against their rulers. Ram Singh 
gave up hope and in his later days lost faith in the prophecies 
fabricated by his enthusiastic followers. His later letters from 

The viceroy's opinion was conveyed in the following words: 'The course 
followed by Mr. Cowan was illegal, that it was not palliated by any public 
necessity, and that it was characterised by incidents which gave it a 
complexion of barbarity.' Letter dated 30 April 1872 from E. C. Bayley to 
the Punjab government. Ibid., pp. 54-8. 

22 The rnaharajah 's firman (proclamation) dated 19 January 1872. 

23 The Englishman, 23 March 1872. 

24 These sau sakhis were claimed to have been found in a tank near 
Sirsa. Under instructions of the lieutenant governor, Sir Robert Egerton, 
they were translated into English. (See note by D. E. McCracken, assistant 
to the inspector general of police, Punjab Home Department, Judicial 
Proceedings, August 1882, Nos 217-218B.) 

25 See P. C. Roy, Gurcharan Singh's Mission in Central Asia, pamphlet 
published by author. 


Social and Religious Reform 

gaol show clearly that he did not consider himself a guru but a 
rapati (mouthpiece) of the guru. Occasionally, when the way he 
had been treated made him angry, he invoked the aid of his guru 
(and, strangely enough, of the Hindu goddesses of destruction 
Sakti, Bhagwati, Jagdamba) 26 to rid the land of the filthy cow- 
eating whites. 

Ram Singh died in Rangoon in 1885 and was succeeded by 
his younger brother Hari Singh. Hari Singh was not allowed to 
move out of Bhaini for the 21 years he was guru. On his death 
in 1906, he was succeeded by his son Pratap Singh (d. 1961), who 
was, in his turn, succeeded by the present head, Jagjit Singh. 27 

No reliable figures of the numbers of Kukas have been 
compiled. 28 They have two centres, one at Bhaini and the other 
at Jiwan Nagar near Sirsa in Hissar district. They publish four 
journals, of which the Satyug, a weekly paper in Gurmukhi, is the 
oldest and the most widely circulated. 29 

The Kukas are a distinct sub-sect who maintain little inter- 
course with the parent community. They have their own gurdwaras 
and only on rare occasions deign to join Sikh religious proces- 
sions. They do not intermarry with Sikhs unless the party 
concerned accepts their persuasion. 

The Kukas, nevertheless, more strictly adhere to the puritani- 
cal faith of Guru Nanak and Guru Gobind than other Sikhs. Their 
gurdwaras are not ostentatious, and their worship is devoid of 

26 See Ram Singh's letters from gaol published in Ganda Singh, Kukian 
di Vithia, pp. 213-14. 

27 Jagjit Singh has no son and is likely to be succeeded by his younger 
brother, Bir Singh, or Bir Singh's son, Dalip Singh. 

28 In 1871, the Kukas claimed a membership of nearly one million. The 
census of 1891 however listed only 10,541, and the figure had only gone 
up to 13,788 in the census of 1901. 

Today the Kukas claim to have a following of between 5-10 lacs, 
consisting largely of Jats, Ramgarhias, Aroras, and Mazhabi Sikhs. They 
are concentrated in the districts of Hissar, Amritsar, and Ludhiana. 
(Author's interview with Guru Jagjit Singh.) 

29 Other Kuka journals are Nawan Hindustan, a Gurmukhi daily pub- 
lished in New Delhi; Ndmdhan Samacar, a Hindi quarterly published in 
Delhi; Saca Marg y a Gurmukhi weekly published in Samana. 

Religious Movements 


the elements of idolatry (rich canopies and coverings over the 
Granth, waving of censers, etc.) which have become common 
practice in orthodox circles. And the Kukas themselves lead 
austere lives; they wear the simplest of clothes and observe a 
rigid code of conduct; they are punctilious in attending service 
in their gurdwaras and in observing the taboos of food, drink, 
and personal deportment. They also have a place in the history 
of the freedom movement of India. Ram Singh was the first man 
to evolve non-cooperation and the use of swadeshi (indigenous 
goods) as political weapons. The boycott of British goods, 
government schools, law courts, and the postal service and the 
exhortation to wear only hand-spun cloth {khaddar) which Ram 
Singh propagated in the 1860s were taken up again sixty years 
later by Mahatma Gandhi. 

9. Singh Sabha and Social Reform 

The Background: Christian and Hindu 
Missionary Activity 

'T^he Nirankari, Radha Soami, and Namdhari movements 
A made small impact on the Sikh masses. The first was con- 
fined to the urban community in the north-west; the second was 
largely concerned with theistic problems; while the third was 
temporarily blasted out of existence on the parade ground 
of Malerkotla. All three developed into schismatic coteries 
owing allegiance to its particular guru and practising its own 
esoteric ritual. The evils they had set out to abolish continued 
unabated. Sikhs of lower castes continued to be discriminated 
against; the rich continued to indulge in drink and debauchery; 
Brahmanical Hinduism, with its pantheon of gods and god- 
desses, mumbling of Sanskrit mantras, belief in soothsayers, 
astrologers and casters of horoscopes, continued as before. 
Even Sikhs who criticized these sects for worshipping gurus 
other than the recognized ten, were not averse to prostrating 
themselves before the Bedi and Sodhi descendants of Nanak 
and Gobind or paying homage to some saint or the other exactly 
as if he were a guru. 

As serious as the decline in moral standards was the decline 
in the number of Sikhs. When the Khalsa was in the ascendant, 
large numbers of Hindus had begun to grow their hair and 
beards and pay lip-worship to the Sikh gurus. After annexation, 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


these time-servers returned to the Hindu fold. Genuine Sikh 
families who had cultivated close social relations with such 
Hindus either followed suit or became clean-shaven sahajdharis. 
Sikhs, most of whom had been Hindus a few generations earlier 
and had never given up social intercourse with the Hindus, were 
now faced with the prospect of being reabsorbed into Hinduism 
and ceasing to exist as a separate community. 1 

The inherent weakness of the Sikh body politic was only one 
factor of disintegration; there were three others: the activities 
of Christian missions, the proselytization by a new Hindu orga- 
nization known as the Arya Samaj, and the rationalism that 
came with the introduction of scientific concepts. 

In 1835, an American Presbyterian Mission had been estab- 
lished at Ludhiana. Immediately after annexation, it spread its 
activities from Malwa to Majha; 2 the Church Missionary Society 
opened centres around Amritsar and Lahore and in the hill 
districts. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel, the 
Salvation Army, the Methodists, Episcopalians, Moravians, and 
several Roman Catholic orders vied with each other in gaining 
converts. 3 Christian missionaries were actively supported by 
English officials. 4 

1 This was the opinion of as shrewd and scholarly observers as Sir 
Richard Temple and Denzil Ibbetson, who noted in the Census Report of 
1881: '. . .The Sikhs are the most uneducated class in the Punjab — On the 
whole there seems reason to believe that notwithstanding the stimulus of 
the Kabul campaign (tales of the heroism of Sikh soldiers in the northwest 
frontier campaign were given wide publicity), Sikhism is on the decline.' 

2 Rev. John Newton and Rev. C. W. Forman visited Lahore in 1849. 
Maconachie, Rowland Bateman. 

3 Imperial Gazetteer of India 1908, xx, 291-2. 

4 Bateman 's biographer records a meeting at Lahore on 19 February 
1852, with Archdeacon Pratt of Calcutta in the chair, where it was stated 
that: 'Henry and John Lawrence, Robert Montgomery, Donald McLeod, 
Herbert Edwardes, Reynell Taylor, Robert Cust, Arthur Roberts, William 
Martin, C. R. Saunders and others, were all interested in starting the Punjab 
Church Missionary Association.' Maconachie, Rowland Bateman, pp. 12-13. 

The growth of Christianity in the Punjab is borne out by census figures: 
1881—3796; 1891—19,547; 1901—37,980; 1911—163,994; 1921—315,931; 


Social and Religious Reform 

The conversion of Maharajah Dalip Singh in 1853 was the first 
feather in the cap of the Christian missionaries and a grievous 
shock to the Sikhs. The same year a Christian mission school 
was opened in Amritsar. With the ardour usual to new converts, 
the exiled maharajah offered to support it. 

Apart from Maharajah Dalip Singh, most of the early Sikh 
converts to Christianity were from the untouchable castes. 
Within a short time isal> the word meaning Christian, acquired 
a pejorative sense and became synonymous with cuhra, the 
Punjabi word for the untouchable sweeper. It was then that the 
neophytes realized that neither the patronage of the padre nor 
the seeming dignity of the sola topee could eradicate the stigma 
of untouchability. Thereafter the rate of conversion from the 
lower castes declined. Christian missionaries turned their atten- 
tion to the well-to-do Jat and Kshatriya castes. Several Sikh 
families of note accepted Christianity. 5 The conversions of 
educated and aristocratic families disturbed the Sikh leaders 
more than the loss of their untouchable brethren. 6 

More serious than the activities of Christian missionaries, 
however, was the challenge of renascent Hinduism, chiefly from 
the Arya Samaj. 

The Arya Samaj was founded by Swami Dayanand 7 Saraswati, 
whose motto was 'Back to the Vedas\ According to him, the 

5 The best known of these families was that of Raja Harnam Singh, 
brother of the maharajah of Kapurthala. Raja Harnam Singh's sons and 
daughter rose to eminent positions. Amrit Kaur, a friend of Mahatma 
Gandhi, was minister of health in the central government; Maharaj Singh 
became governor of Bombay; Dalip Singh, a judge of the Punjab High Court. 

Sadhu Sundar Singh (b. 1889), Jat Sikh of Rampur (Patiala state), was 
the most celebrated Indian convert to Christianity. He was a mystic. He 
spent most of his years walking up and down the Hindustan-Tibet Road. 
He disappeared some time after 1935. 

6 In 1873, when four Sikh boys of the mission school of Amritsar 
announced their decision to turn Christian, there were protest meetings all 
over the Punjab; Sikh preachers talked to the boys and prevented them 
from abandoning their ancestral faith. 

7 Dayanand (1824-83) was the son of a Saivite Brahmin of Kathiawar. 
Dayanand left home at the age of 21 and spent the next eighteen years 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


Vedas inculcated belief in one omnipresent but invisible God 
and in the equality of human beings; he was therefore against 
the worship of idols and the caste system. Dayanand was a 
forceful orator. Within a few years his voice was heard all over 
India. His iconoclastic monotheism and egalitarianism had 
special appeal for the Sikhs. 

In the summer of 1877, Dayanand came to the Punjab, where 
he received a great welcome from the Hindus and Sikhs. He 
opened a branch of the Arya Samaj at Lahore. Proselytization 
(sudhl — purification) was an important part of its activities, and 
it gained many Hindu and Sikh adherents. 

It did not take the orthodox Sikhs long to appreciate that 
Dayanand' s belief in the infallibility of the Vedas was as un- 
compromising as that of the Muslims in the Koran. 8 The Grarith 
was to him a book of secondary importance, and the Sikh gurus 
men of little learning; Nanak, he denounced as a dambhl (hypo- 
crite) . Dayanand was contemptuous of Sikh theologians because 
of their ignorance of Sanskrit: his favourite phrase for any one 
who did not measure up to him was maha murkh (great fool). 
Dayanand set the tone; his zealous admirers followed suit. 9 

studying the Sanskrit religious texts under the guidance of a blind scholar, 
Swami Virajanand. He spent the remaining twenty years of his life 
preaching in northern India. 

8 'I regard the Vedas as self-evident truth, admitting of no doubt and 
depending on the authority of no other book; being represented in nature, 
the Kingdom of God.' Dayanand, Handbook of the Arya Samaj, p. 35. 

Max Muller's opinion on Dayanand' s attitude to the Vedas is illuminat- 
ing: 'By the most incredible interpretations Swami Dayanand succeeded 
in persuading himself and others that everything worth knowing, even the 
most recent inventions of modern science, were alluded to in the Vedas. 
Steam-engines, railways and steam boats, were all known to have been 
known, at least in their germ, to the poets of the Vedas; for veda, he argued, 
means knowledge, and how could anything be hid from that?' Biographical 
Essays, ii, 170. 

9 The Arya Samacar, an organ of the Samaj, published the following 
Nanak sah fakir ne naya caldyd pahth. 

Idhar udhar se jor ke likh mora ik granth 
Pahle cde kar liye, piche badld bhes 


Social and Religious Reform 

The Sikhs turned their backs on Dayanand; instead they 
joined the Muslims and Christians in demanding the suppres- 
sion of Dayanand 's book, Satydrth Prakds, 10 which maligned the 
prophets of their three faiths. 

Besides the activities of the Christian missions and the Arya 
Samajists, other winds of change began to blow across the 
province. There was an influx of Bengali intellectuals, who 
brought with them the message of liberal Hinduism of Raja Ram 
Mohan Roy (1771-1833) and the Brahmo Samaj. They opened 
a branch in Lahore in 1864 and won a notable convert in Dayal 
Singh Majithia. 11 Equally influential were the Theosophists, many 
of whom (including Dr Annie Besant) lectured in the Punjab. The 
interest in India and Hindu religion generated by the publication 
of the works of Max Muller, Sir Edwin Arnold, and Dr Monier 
Williams was followed by the publication of many works on the 
Punjab. 12 The Sikhs were once again unlucky in their European 

Sir par sofa bandh he, rakh Une sab kes. 
Nanak, the king of fakirs, founded a new community. 
He collected an assortment of writings and put them in a volume. 
He gathered a few disciples and then changed his garb; 
He wound a turban round his head and grew his hair long. 
Ganda Singh, A History of the Khalsa College, p. 7. 

10 Satydrth Prakas was published in 1874. It was banned by the Punjab 
government because of offensive references to Prophet Mohammed. An 
amended version is now in circulation. 

11 Dayal Singh Majithia (d.1898) was the son of the famous Lehna 
Singh, minister of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. He became president of the 
Indian Association, which was affiliated to the Indian National Congress. 
He financed the Tribune and set up a trust which founded the Dayal Singh 
College and a public library. The Tribune started publishing in 1881. It 
continues to this day to have almost a monopoly of circulation in English- 
educated Punjabi circles. 

12 The more important of these were Sir Richard Temple's legends of 
the Punjab, Names and Name Places, and the monthly magazine, Punjab Notes 
and Queries; Bosworth Smith's Life of Lord iMxvrence; Ross's Land of Five 
Rivers', and above all Rudyard Kipling's stories, many of which had Punjab's 
cantonments as their background. 

Western interest in the Punjab was an important factor in reviving the 
interest of the Punjabis in their own history and cultural traditions. What 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


interpreter. A German philologist, Dr Ernest Trumpp, was 
engaged by the India office to translate the Grarith into English. 
Trumpp tried his hand at the first few pages and abandoned 
further translation because the language did not conform to the 
rules of Sanskrit grammar, and Sikh theologians refused to 
collaborate with him. Trumpp's opuscule when published caused 
no small disappointment. His preface had ill-natured comments 
on the text of the Grahth; and his translation was inaccurate, dull, 
and prosy. Yet who could the Sikhs blame except themselves? 

The literary and educational movement gathered momentum. 
In the 1870s and 1880s an Oriental College, a University library, 
museum, school of arts, science institute, and a medical college 
were opened in the Punjab. Hindus and Muslims started schools 
and colleges of their own; only the Sikhs lagged behind. 13 

Singh Sabhas of Amritsar and Lahore 

Four years before the setting up of the Arya Samaj, the Sikh 
gentry of Amritsar had convened meetings to protest against 
the speeches of a Hindu orator who had made scurrilous re- 
marks against the Sikh gurus. These protest meetings had been 
organized by a society which described itself as the Singh 
Sabha. It had the support of the rich, landed gentry and the 
orthodox. 14 The society's objects included the revival of the 
teachings of the gurus, production of religious literature in Punjabi, 

Monier Williams did for India, Dr Leitner sought to do for the Punjab. He 
was the spirit behind the Anjuman-i-Punjdb and the Panjdb Akhbdr, pub- 
lished at Lahore. He set up a Punjab Institute at Woking near London. 

13 'The Catholic principles which it [Grarith] inculcates are known but 
to a few and clouds of prejudice and superstition have spread over the 
horizon of the Sikh religion. Now many Singh Sabhas have sprung up in 
different parts of the Punjab and the leaders of the community have 
awakened to their present condition; and there are ample grounds now to 
hope that there would be a Sikh revival.' Tribune, 7 February 1885. 

14 Leaders of the Amritsar Singh Sabha were Khem Singh Bedi, 
Bikram Singh Ahluwalia of Kapurthala, and Thakar Singh Sandhawalia. 
Several Sikh theologians including the celebrated Gyani Gyan Singh took 
active interest. 


Social and Religious Reform 

and a campaign against illiteracy. The founders also sought to 
'interest high placed Englishmen in, and assure their associa- 
tion with, the educational programme of the Singh Sabha.' To 
ensure the patronage of the government the Sabha resolved 'to 
cultivate loyalty to the crown'. 15 Thakar Singh Sandhawalia was 
president and Gyani Gyan Singh secretary of the Amritsar Shri 
Guru Singh Sabha. The government extended its patronage to 
the educational programme of the organization. 16 

In 1879 another Singh Sabha was formed at Lahore. Leaders 
of this Sabha were a group of educated and energetic men of 
the middle class. 17 The governor of the Punjab, Sir Robert 
Egerton, agreed to become its patron and induced the viceroy, 

15 The mood of sycophantic loyalty to the British can be gauged from 
the message of farewell that was sent to Lord Ripon by the Sri Guru Singh 
Sabha by Man Singh, president of the Golden Temple Committee: 'Our 
bodies are the exclusive possession of the British. Moreover, that we are 
solemnly and religiously bound to serve Her Majesty; that in discharging 
this duty we act according to the wishes of our Great Guru, the ever living 
God and that whenever and wherever need be felt for us, we wish to be 
the foremost of all Her Majesty's subjects, to move and uphold the honour 
of the crown; that we reckon ourselves as the favourite sons of our empress- 
mother, although living far distant from Her Majesty's feet and that we 
regard the people of England asour kindred brethren.' Tribune, 15 Novem- 
ber 1889. 

16 The policy of educating the landed aristocracy and training it for 
leadership was started by the lieutenant governor, Sir Charles Aitchison 
(1882-7). The Aitchison Chiefs College at Lahore admitted only sons of 
princes and rich zamindars listed in Griffin's Rajas of the Punjab, Extension 
of the same policy produced, in the earlier stages, close collaboration 
between leaders of the Singh Sabha (drawn almost exclusively from the 
rich and loyal classes of Sikhs) and the English rulers. 

17 They were Gurmukh Singh Chandhur, Dit Singh, and Jawahar Singh 
Kapur. Gurmukh Singh Chandhur (1849-98) was employed as a cook in the 
palace kitchen of the raja of Kapurthala. He was given a stipend by the raja 
and after completing his studies became the first professor of Punjabi at 
the Oriental College (1885). He was the author of many books in Punjabi 
including A History of India. Dit Singh (1853-1901) was a Mazhabi of 
Patiala. He was amongst those most eager to welcome Dayanand and later 
his most vigorous critic. Jawahar Singh Kapur (1859-1901), a Khatri Sikh, 
was employed as a clerk in the north-western railway. 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


Lord Lansdowne, to lend his support. 18 The Lahore Singh Sabha 
opened branches in many towns, sent missionaries to the vil- 
lages, established liaison with Sikh regiments, and began pub- 
lishing journals in Punjabi. 

In 1883 the Lahore and Amritsar Sabhas were merged, but 
the association proved a failure. The Amritsar Sabha had been 
constituted by an easy-going group of conservatives dominated 
by men like Khem Singh Bedi, who, by virtue of his descent from 
Nanak, was wont to accept homage due to a guru. The Lahore 
group was radical and strongly opposed to the institution of 
'gurudom'. The two groups clashed on the right of untouchable 
Sikhs to worship in the gurdwaras; the conservatives sided with 
the priests who allowed untouchables to enter only at specified 
hours without the right to make offerings. The debate became 
acrimonious. The conservatives dissociated themselves from 
the movement and then became openly hostile. 19 

The rapid expansion of the Arya Samaj 20 and the anti-Sikh 
bias of many of its leaders 21 constituted a challenge to the Singh 

18 At a function at Patiala the viceroy said: 'With this movement the 
Government of India is in hearty sympathy. We appreciate the many 
admirable qualities of the Sikh nation, and it is a pleasure to us to know that, 
while in days gone by we recognised in them a gallant and formidable foe, 
we are today able to give them a foremost place amongst the true and loyal 
subjects of Her Majesty the Queen Empress.' Tribune, 23 October 1890. 

19 In 1887, Udai Singh Bedi, a nephew of Khem Singh Bedi, filed a libel 
suit against The Khalsa Akhbdr run by the Lahore Sabha. The paper had 
described the Bedi as the 'guru of Satan'. The editor was fined and the 
Lahore Sabha's publishing enterprise had to close down for some time. 
Tribune, 7 March 1888. 

20 The Arya Samaj opened many schools in the province. In 1886, the 
DAV (Dayanand Anglo-Vedic) College was opened at Lahore. 

21 At the eleventh anniversary meeting of the Punjab branch of the Arya 
Samaj in November 1888, the speakers again chose to make derogatory 
references to Sikhism. Prof. Guru Dutt said, 'If the Swami had wished to 
become a general, he would have shown himself several thousand times 

better than Bonaparte Yes, Keshab Chander (Sen) and Guru Gobind 

Singh were not even one hundredth part of our Swami Dayananda Saraswati 
ji. The Sikhs might have some religion in them, but their guru had no 
learning whatever — If Swami Dayananda Saraswati ji Maharaj had called 


Social and Religious Reform 

Sabha movement. It also brought about the final rupture between 
the Samaj and some of its Sikh supporters. 

The two Singh Sabhas again rejoined hands and doubled their 
efforts to start a college of their own. 22 At a largely attended 
meeting held in Lahore, a plan was drawn up; a hukumndmd was 
issued from the Golden Temple asking Sikhs to give a tenth of 
their income (dasvandh) towards the building of the college. 23 
English well-wishers organized a committee in London to raise 
funds in England. Sikh princes, encouraged by the viceroy and 
the commander-in-chief, made handsome donations; the Anglo- 
Indian Civil and Military Gazette supported the cause with enthu- 
siasm. Money began to pour in from all over the province. On 
5 March 1892, the lieutenant governor, Sir James Lyall, who had 
taken personal interest in the venture, laid the foundation stone 
of the Khalsa College at Amritsar. 24 

Guru Nanak a dambhi (a hypocrite, an impostor), then what is wrong 
therein? He (the Swami) had the sun of the Vedas in his hands. ... He was 
not the person to be suppressed by anyone.' Ganda Singh, History of the 
Khalsa College, p. 8. 

22 Jawahar Singh Kapur addressed meetings in Amritsar telling his 
Sikh audiences that the Arya Samaj had its institutions to teach Sanskrit 
and the Vedas, the Muslims had made provision for the teaching of the 
Koran at Aligarh, but the Sikhs had no institution for the study of Gurmukhi 
and the Grarith. Tribune, 15 August 1890. 

23 The trustees of the College Committee included both Sikhs and 
Englishmen. They were Maharajah Pertap Singh of Nabha, Sir Attar Singh 
of Bhadaur, Gurdayal Singh, Dharam Singh, Dewan Gurmukh Singh of 
Patiala, Mr Bell, Colonel Holroyde, and General Black. Civil and Military 
Gazette, May 9, 1890. 

24 An Englishman, Dr S. C. Oman, was appointed principal. The chief 
justice of the Punjab High Court, W. H. Rattigan, became president of the 
college establishment committee, which was controlled by the vice-presi- 
dent, Sir Attar Singh of Bhadaur, and the secretary, Jawahar Singh Kapur. 

Gratitude to the English patrons can be judged from the proposals 
submitted for the name of the college. The maharajah of Nabha wanted 
to name it the 'Loyal Lyall Khalsa College' (letter to Gurmukh Singh dated 
22 December 1899); the establishment committee was content to name 
it just Lyall Khalsa College. It was only the reluctance of Sir James himself 
that saved the College from being prefixed either Loyal or Lyall. 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


It was inevitable an organization such as the Singh Sabha 
which had such multifarious activities should evolve its own 
politics as well. These crystallized in the formation in 1902 of 
the Chief Khalsa Diwan pledged 'to cultivate loyalty to the 
crown/ to safeguard Sikh rights vis-a-vis the other communities, 
and to fight for adequate representation of Sikhs in services, 
particularly the army. Almost from its inception its most effec- 
tive leader was Sunder Singh Majithia. 25 

The most important aspects of the Singh Sabha movement 
were educational and literary. From 1908 onwards, an education 
conference was convened every year to take stock of the progress 
of literacy in the community and collect money to build more 
schools. The teaching of Gurmukhi and the Sikh scriptures was 
compulsory in these Khalsa schools. 26 

The impetus given to education in its turn stimulated the 
publication of books, 27 magazines, tracts, and newspapers. 28 

25 Sir Sunder Singh (1872-1941), a descendant of the Majithias in the 
service of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, was a Shergil Jat of village Majitha near 
Amritsar. He was an ardent supporter of the British Raj. He was secretary 
of the Chief Khalsa Diwan from its inception in 1902 to 1921 and president 
of the Khalsa College Committee from 1920 till his death. He was a member 
of the provincial council and central assembly and held innumerable 
ministerial appointments. Majithia was a wealthy landowner and a sugar 
magnate. There will be many references to him in the following pages. 

Senior colleagues of Sunder Singh Majithia were Harbans Singh of 
Attari (grandson of the hero of Sabraon) and Arjan Singh Bagarian, whose 
family had been religious mentors to the Sikh aristocracy. 

26 In 1856 the Education Department of the Punjab government was 
constituted and a beginning made to set up schools independent of mosques, 
temple, or gurdwaras, to which they had till then been attached. In north- 
west Punjab Sir Khem Singh Bedi took a prominent part in building Khalsa 
schools. Sikh schools were also built in Amritsar, Lahore, Ferozepur, and 
in some villages such as Kairon, Gharjakh, Chuhar Chak, and Bhasaur. One 
of the best-known institutions was the Sikh Kanya Mahavidyalaya of Ferozepur 
founded by Takht Singh. 

27 The Anjuman-i-Panjab (founded in 1865) was responsible for trans- 
lating many important English books into Punjabi. In 1877 Punjabi was 
introduced as a subject in the Oriental College at Lahore; in 1882 the Singh 
Sabha organized a Panjdbn Pracarini Sabha to popularize the use of Punjabi. 

28 Over a dozen papers owed their existence to the Singh Sabha 


Social and Religious Reform 

The earliest venture in Punjabi journalism was the weekly Khalsa 
Akhbar. In 1899 the Khalsa Samacarwas founded and soon be- 
came the leading theological journal of the community. Its cir- 
culation increased under the editorship of Vir Singh, who rose 
to prominence as a novelist, poet, and a commentator of scrip- 
tural writings. 29 Vir Singh also started the Khalsa Tract Society and 
published literature on different aspects of Sikh history and 

A spate of books on Sikhism, both in Gurmukhi and English, 
were published. Of the Gurmukhi, Gyani Gyan Singh's Panth 
Prakds and Tawdrlkh Guru Khalsa and Kahan Singh's voluminous 
encyclopaedia of Sikh literature ( Guru Sabdaratnakar Mahankos) 
were of lasting significance. M. A. Macauliffe's monumental 
work on the life and teachings of the Sikh gurus 30 was also 
published at this time. 

The Singh Sabha movement not only checked the relapse of 
the Sikhs into Hinduism but retaliated by carrying proselytizing 
activities into the Hindu camp. Large numbers of Hindus of 
northern and western Punjab and Sindh became sahajdhari 
Sikhs and the sahajdharis were baptized to become the Khalsa. 31 

movement. Sukabi Subodhini, Amritsar (1875) ; AkalPrakas, Amritsar (1876) ; 
Gurmukhi Akhbar, Lahore (1850); Khalsa Prakds, Lahore (1884); Sri Gurmat 
Prakds', Rawalpindi (1885); Panjab Darpan, Amritsar (1885); Khalsa Akhbar 
restarted in Lahore in 1886; and the Vidyarak, Lahore (1886); The Khalsa 
Gazette and Loyal Gazette (which later became the Sher-i-Panjab) were 
published in Urdu. 

29 See Appendix 1. 

30 The, Sikh Religion was published in 1909 in six volumes by the Oxford 
University Press. 

31 The following figures show the increase in the Sikh population: 

Year Actual Number Variation Per cent in: 

of Sikhs Sikhs Total Population 

1881 1,706,165 

1891 1,849,371 +8.4 + 10.1 

1901 2,102,896 + 13.7 +6.3 

1911 2,883,729 +37.1 -2.2 

1921 3,110,060 +7.8 +5.7 

Punjab Census Report, 1921. 

Singh Sabha and Social Reform 


The rise and expansion of the Arya Samaj in the Punjab had a 
decisive bearing on the course of Hindu-Sikh relations and on the 
pattern of anti-British political movements in the province. The 
sudhl crusade launched by the Samaj was fiercely resisted by the 
Sikhs. The more the Samajists claimed Sikhism to be a branch 
of Hinduism, the more the Sikhs insisted that they were a distinct 
and separate community. This action and reaction broke up the 
close social relationship which had existed between the two sister 
communities. It found expression in the publication of a booklet 
Ham Hindu Nahih Hain — we are not Hindus — by the scholarly 
Kahan Singh, who was then chief minister of Nabha. Although the 
Singh Sabha movement petered out in the 1920s it left a legacy of 
a chronically defensive attitude towards Hinduism. 

Dayanand's teachings also had a strong political flavour. In 
proclaiming his intention to purify Hinduism of its post-Vedic 
accretions, he desired to liberate Hindu society from non-Hindu 
domination. His criticism of Islam and Christianity in effect was 
the criticism of Indian Muslims and the English. Consequently 
the renaissance of Hinduism brought about by the Arya Samaj 
had a strong anti-Muslim and anti-British bias which was often 
discernible in the utterances of Punjabi Hindu nationalists, large 
numbers of whom were Arya Samajists, for example, Lajpat 
Rai, 32 Ajit Singh, Hans Raj, and the majority of Punjabi Hindu 
terrorists. The domination of the Indian National Congress by 
Arya Samajists gave the freedom movement an aspect of Hindu 
resurgence and was chiefly responsible for the aloofness of the 
Muslims and the Sikhs. 33 

32 Lala Lajpat Rai (1865-1928), the most eminent of Punjab's na- 
tionalists, was born into a Hindu-Sikh family. He was also an active 
Samajist and for a while president of the Hindu Mahasabha. 

33 The remarks of Dr Griswold are illuminating. 'The watchword of 
Pandit Dayanand was back to the Vedas. With this religious watchword, 
another watchword was implicitly, if not explicitly, combined, namely India 
for Indians. Combining these two we have the principle, both religious and 
political, the religion of India as well as the sovereignty of India ought to 
belong to the Indian people, in other words, Hindu religion for the Indians 
and Indian sovereignty for the Indians.' Indian Evangelical Review, January 
1892, quoted by Farquhar, Modem Religious Movements in India, pp. 111-12. 



The reclamation of desert lands by the extension of canals, 
patronage in the services, and the introduction of the western 
system of education produced economic, social, and political 
changes in the Sikh community. The canal colonies eased 
the pressure on land and brought unprecedented prosperity 
to the peasantry. Their prosperity was, however, short-lived; 
within a few years, holdings were fragmented and became 
uneconomical. Rural indebtedness increased. Families which 
could raise money sent their younger sons to explore other 
avenues of employment or to seek their fortune in foreign lands. 
Sikh communities sprang up in Burma, Malaya, Singapore, 
Thailand, Cambodia, the Philippines, and China; and from 
the Asian coast the more enterprising ventured across the 
Pacific to Canada and the United States. At the same time 
small entrepreneurs set up business in countries on the eastern 
coast of Africa. On the American continent Sikh emigrants 
came up against racial discrimination and in turn developed a 
xenophobia which provided fertile ground for the dissemination 
of Marxism. 


Political Movements 

Enthusiasm for the British Raj, which had reached its climax 
during the First World War (1914-18), rapidly declined. The 
government's refusal to protest against Canadian and American 
maltreatment of Sikh immigrants, disappointment over constitu- 
tional reforms, the shooting at Amritsar (April 1919) followed 
by the repression of the movement to gain control of shrines from 
hereditary priests, created resentment against British rule. From 
these movements three political parties emerged: the Commu- 
nists, the Nationalists, and the Akalis. In the years following the 
First World War, when steps were taken to increase people's 
participation in the administration, these three political parties 
contended for power; much the most influential of them being the 

10. Rural Indebtedness and 
Peasant Agitation 

The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt 

he reclamation of desert lands by the extension of canal 

A irrigation, combined with facilities for marketing agricul- 
tural produce, ushered in an era of prosperity that the Punjab 
had never seen. But this prosperity brought in its wake other 
economic changes which radically altered the social fabric of 
life in the Punjab. A direct consequence of the increase in 
the earning from agriculture was the increase in the price of 
land; it rose from a mere Rs 10 per acre in 1870 to more than 
Rs 100 per acre by the turn of the century. 1 Land became a 
valuable commodity, and small farmers were unable to resist 
the temptation to sell their holdings. 2 The number of land- 
less farmers assumed alarming proportions. The famine of 

1 H. Calvert, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab, p. 219. The price of 
land continued to rise. In 1925 it was Rs 438 per acre; in 1933-4, it touched 
Rs 477 per acre. 

2 'That dull animal the peasant .by degrees realised that he was the 
possessor of, in his eyes, unlimited credit and used it.' Thorburn, Report 
on Peasant Indebtedness and Land Alienations, p. 10. 

And once the agriculturist started borrowing, he lost his self-reliance 
and made it a habit — carhia sau te latha bhau — when the debt mounts to 
a hundred, one loses all fear, or, in for a penny in for a pound. 


Political Movements 

1869 3 attended by heavy mortality of livestock accentuated the 
problem. Agriculturists were unable to pay revenue due from 
them and were compelled to borrow. 

The 1870s ushered in an era of peasant indebtedness which 
had never been known in the country before. From 1877 — which 
was another year of serious shortages — it assumed alarming 
proportions. The elaborate legal system introduced by the Brit- 
ish contributed towards the impoverishment of the peasantry and 
the enrichment of moneylenders and lawyers. 4 To permit the 
profits of husbandry to pass to moneylenders is an intolerable 
revolution of an odious kind never yet known in India,' wrote Thor- 
burn, 'and yet it is exactly what our system is bringing about/ 5 

Moneylending became a popular occupation. 6 In the past 

3 In the famine of 1869, 600,000 head of cattle were lost in four districts 
of south-eastern Punjab alone. A cattle epidemic in 1877 killed two-thirds 
of the livestock in Ambala. In 1919-21 the failure of five out of six harvests 
reduced the cattle at Sirsa by 40 per cent. M. Darling, The Punjab Peasant 
in Prosperity and Debt, p. 97. 

4 The process began in 1859, when three years was fixed as the limitation 
of all debts unprotected by registered bond — thus forcing creditors to hurry 
to courts. The introduction of the Civil Procedure Code, the setting up of 
the Chief Court at Lahore (in 1866), the passing of the Evidence Act and 
Contract Act in 1872 gave ingenious lawyers and their clients (moneylend- 
ers could afford them more than agriculturists) opportunities to prolong 
litigation. The straw that broke the back of the peasantry was the creation 
in 1874-5 of munsiffs' courts to try debt disputes. Till then district officers 
with close knowledge of the peasants' problems and revenue matters had 
dealt with these disputes simply, cheaply, and equitably. The munsiffs, 
largely urbanites ignorant of rural affairs, proved to be harsh and often 
corrupt. Thorburn, Report on Peasant Indebtedness and Land Alienations, p. 47. 

5 Ibid., p. 11. 

6 Between 1902 and 1917 the number of moneylenders almost doubled. 
In 1902 there were 8400 registered moneylenders in the Punjab. By 1917, 
their number had increased to over 15,000. H. Calvert, The Wealth and 
Welfare of the Punjab, p. 255. 

The Punjab had three communities of moneylenders: Aroras in the 
western districts, Khatris in the central, and Banias in the southern dis- 
tricts. The first two communities were equally Hindu and Sikh; the Banias 
were invariably Hindus. Moneylending was seldom practised by Punjabi 
Mussalmans and very rarely by Jats of any community. 

Rural Indebtedness and Agitation 


moneylenders had disdained to advance money on anything 
as worthless as land; now they were eager to lend against the 
fruits of the land without being encumbered with its ownership. 
Their business methods were far from ethical; they falsified 
accounts and charged rates of interest which kept their clients 
in a state of perpetual indebtedness. 7 The agriculturist did 
little, however, to ameliorate his condition. The Sikh Jat in 
particular reverted to his traditional habit of drowning his 
sorrows in drink; in some districts of Malwa, the preference 
was for opium. 8 These addictions led to an increase in crime. 
In addition to family feuds and altercations concerning the 
use of canal water which were common to all agricultural 
communities, the Sikh Jat indulged in violence without motive 
or provocation and had to borrow money to defend himself 
in court. 

There were other causes of indebtedness: inordinate expenses 
at weddings, providing dowries for daughters or — in some dis- 
tricts where there was acute shortage of women — the cost of 
buying wives. Punjabi peasants also proved to be more quarrel- 
some and litigious than any other people of India. 9 A little less 
than half the adult population of the province attended law courts 
and spent between 3-4 crores of rupees in litigation every year. 
In addition, there were natural causes of indebtedness such 
as the increase of population; in the Punjab, between 1855 and 
1881 the population was estimated to have increased by nearly 

7 Moneylenders did not necessarily have to be dishonest. Even 'with 
honest lenders,' wrote Thorburn, 'a good solvent customer's money 
debt is doubled inside three years and his grain debt inside two years.' 
Report on Peasant Indebtedness and Land Alienations, p. 7. 

The accepted rate of interest, was dam deorhe, jins duni (for cash 50 
per cent, for grain double) . 

8 The Sikhs of Ferozepur district earned notoriety for indulgence in 
drink, opium, and crimes of violence. 

9 The Civil Justice Committee in its report published in 1925 found that, 
in proportion to their numbers, the Punjabis filed twice as many suits as 
the people of the United Provinces. About 2V2 million, that is, 40 per cent 
of the adult population, attended the courts every year as parties or 
witnesses. H. Calvert, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab, p. 372. 


Political Movements 

20 per cent. 10 The pressure on land became heavy and holdings 
became uneconomical 11 The halcyon days ushered in by the 
opening up of the canal colonies were soon over. 

Land Alienation Act, 1900 

Murders of Hindu and Sikh moneylenders by exasperated 
peasant debtors became a common phenomenon in the western 
districts. 12 The government realized the dangers of having 

10 To make a fair comparison between the first (1855) and third census 
(1881), to the figures of the 1855 census must be added two sets of 
figures — 'the corresponding census of the Delhi territory, namely Delhi, 
Gurgaon, part of Karnal, Hissar and Rohtak was taken under the N. W. 
Provinces Govt, on 1st January 1853 while the census of Bhattiana or Sirsa 
was a settlement census taken village by village between 1852 and 1863.' 
See Ibbetson's report on the Punjab Census 1881, i, 8. 

11 Thorburn reporting in 1896 on conditions in villages in Sialkot 
district wrote: 'Congestion can hardly go further, and the sub-division of 
holdings is consequently so great that quite half of the proprietary families 
have less than five cultivated acres to live on, enough in average and good 
years, but insufficient in seasons of drought, even though land be well- 
irrigated. * Peasant Indebtedness and Land Alienations, p. 2. 

According to Calvert, the average holding of land was 7-8 acres per 
head constituted as follows: 

17.9 per cent of the people owned less than one acre; their holdings 

amounted to 1 per cent of the land. 
40.4 per cent of the people owned between 1-5 acres; their holdings 

amounted to 11 per cent of the land. 
26.2 per cent of the people owned between 5-15 acres; their holdings 

amounted to 26.6 per cent of the land. 
11.8 per cent of the people owned between 15-50 acres; their holdings 

amounted to 35.6 per cent of the land. 
3.7 per cent of the people owned more than 50 acres; their holdings 

amounted to 25.7 per cent of the land. 
H. Calvert, The Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab, pp. 172-3. 

12 Muslims formed 56 per cent of the population and owed at least 
50-60 crores of Punjab's rural debt calculated at 100 crores of rupees. 
M. Darling, The Punjab Peasant in Prosperity and Debt, pp. 19-20. 

The census of 1921 is not sufficiently detailed to give all the information 
required, but, roughly, the proportion of agriculturists to others in the three 
communities was as follows: 

Rural Indebtedness and Agitation 


disgruntled peasantry — particularly a peasantry from which it 
drew the largest number of recruits for the army and on whose 
loyalty depended the internal security of the country. 13 The Land 
Alienation Act was designed to protect the agriculturists from 
the clutches of the moneylenders. It forbade the attachment of 
land in execution of decrees and outlawed mortgages which had 
a conditional sale clause attached to them. It also forbade 
(except by special sanction) the sale of land by members of 
agricultural tribes to non-agriculturists and declared illegal 
mortgages of land by agriculturists to non-agriculturists unless 
provision was made for automatic redemption. To ensure imple- 
mentation of these provisions, the act limited leases of land to 
periods of not more than five years. 

The act succeeded in safeguarding the interests of culti- 
vators; but it also sowed the seeds of racial separatism. The 
question as to who was or was not an agriculturist was not 
decided by actual occupation but by caste. Thus alljats, Rajputs, 
and members of scheduled castes were declared agriculturists, 
while all Khatris, Aroras, and Banias were classed as non- 
agriculturists. The act did not provide for an exception in the 
case of Jat moneylenders or Arora agriculturists. In certain 
districts Brahmins were declared agriculturists, in others, non- 
agriculturists. Cases of individual hardship were not as serious 
as the breaking up of the population on a new racial basis. 
Muslims, amongst whom caste considerations mattered little, 

Agriculturists Non-Agriculturists Total 

Muslims 6,728,000 4,716,000 11,444,000 

Hindus 2,211,000 4,368,000 6,579,000 

Sikhs 1,508,000 784,000 2,292,000 

10,447,000 9,868,000 20,315,000 

Calvert, Wealth and Welfare of the Punjab, p. 269. 

13 In a note in 1895, on the proposal to check alienation of land, the 
lieutenant governor, Sir D. Fitzpatrick, warned that if landowners were 
reduced to the condition of tenants or labourers they would constitute 'a 
political danger of formidable dimensions/ Government of India Records, 
Agricultural Indebtedness and Land Transfers, n, Punjab Correspondence, p. 2. 


Political Movements 

were not particularly affected, nor, for precisely the opposite 
reason, were the Hindus. Hindi-speaking Hindu Jats were con- 
centrated in Hariana and had little in common with the Punjabi- 
speaking Khatri or Arora Hindu of the Punjab. The community 
most adversely affected was the Sikhs. They had gone a long way 
in breaking the barriers of caste; and there were a sizeable 
number of Khatri and Arora Sikhs who, because they were in 
agriculture, had developed an identity of economic interest with 
their Jat co-religionists. The Land Alienation Act severed the 
links between the Jat Sikh farmer and the non-Jat Sikh farmer 
and put them in opposing camps. As a result, while the Jat 
Sikh was drawn closer to the Jat Mussalman and the Jat Hindu, 
the Khatri and the Arora Sikh drew closer to the Khatri and 
Arora Hindu. 

Common economic interests were reflected in political life 
with the Sikh Jats aligned with other Jats against non-Jat Sikhs. 
Economic and political differences ultimately affected social 
life as well. Sikh Jats preferred to marry into Hindu Jat families 
rather than into non-Jat Sikhs. And Sikh Khatris and Aroras 
preferred to intermarry with corresponding Hindu castes rather 
than with Jat Sikhs. Finally, there was the third racial group 
amongst the Sikhs — the untouchables. Sikh untouchables found 
that they had more in common with Hindu untouchables than 
with the higher caste Sikhs. They sought the statutory privileges 
accorded to 'scheduled castes*. In short, with the Land Alien- 
ation Act, race came to matter more than religion. The Sikh 
community split into three racial divisions — the Jats, the non- 
Jats (which included Brahmins, Kshatriyas, and Vaishyas) , and 
the untouchables (Mazhabis, Ramdasias, Siklighars, 
Kabirpanthis, etc.). 

Peasant Agitation, 1907 

The Land Alienation Act saved agricultural land from passing 
to moneylenders, but did not solve the problem of rural indebt- 
edness. The Punjab was visited by a series of calamities. Some 
districts were twice ravaged by famine, and the whole of the 

Rural Indebtedness and Agitation 


province was swept by an epidemic of bubonic plague which took 
a toll of over four million lives. The administration remained 
insensitive to these disasters; instead of remitting land revenue, 
it continued to increase it with each new settlement 14 and 
inflicted heavy punishment on defaulters. 

The immediate cause of unrest was the introduction of a bill 
affecting the newly colonized lands opened by the Chenab Canals. 
The bill was passed on the assumption that land was the property 
of the government and the farmer was a mere tenant. This was 
contrary to prevailing notions of peasant proprietorship. Provi- 
sions which caused the most heart-burning were those which 
restricted the rights of colonizers to make wills and denied them 
the right to cut trees on their land. 15 Provisions regulating the 
pattern of housing and standards of sanitation were not objec- 
tionable in themselves except for the clause which gave the 
administration the right to resume the grant in case of default. 16 

The bill was vigorously criticized in the Indian press and by 
members of the Punjab Legislative Council. Pratap Singh 
Ahluwalia, speaking on behalf of the Sikhs, protested that the 
bill sought to make the government both landlord and admin- 
istrator; it enhanced the rights of the administration at the 
expense of the tenants and deprived them of the protection of 
the civil courts. 17 His objections were overruled. 

While the colonization bill was agitating the minds of the 
people, a new settlement of Rawalpindi district 18 was made at 
a higher rate of assessment, and the rate on water taken from 
the Bari Doab Canals was increased. The districts most affected 

14 In 1891, the land revenue from the Punjab amounted to £1,500,000; 
by 1906 this had gone up 30 per cent to £1,925,000. O'Donnell, The Causes 
of Present Discontent in India, p. 94. 

15 The bill required colonizers to plant a minimum of 55 trees per 
square but denied them the right to cut trees without permission. 

16 J. M. Douie, settlement commissioner, PLCD> 28 February 1907. 

17 PLCD, 28 February 1907, pp. 13-15. 

18 Land revenue from the district increased from £27,500 in 1864 to 
£36,400 in 1884 to £45,000 in 1904. O'DonnelK The Causes of Present 
Discontent in India, p. 101. 


Political Movements 

by these measures were Lyallpur (mainly colonized by Sikhs) 
and Rawalpindi. 

A distressed peasantry made the Punjab fertile soil for revolu- 
tionary seed. And the seed blew in profusion from all over India — 
and indeed from Asia. The Punjabi rustic, who had looked upon 
the European as his ram-bap (mother-father) divinely ordained to 
rule over the 'lesser breeds' of yellow and brown and black races, 
heard of the resounding victory of Japanese arms over the Rus- 
sian. He also heard of his own countrymen's triumph in forcing 
the government to rescind the partition of Bengal (1905) . In India 
the gentle politics of Dadabhai Naoroji and Ranade had given way 
to the radical and the revolutionary method of Tilak and the 
terrorists. 'Swaraj is our birthright/ proclaimed Tilak. Tf you 
deny us swaraj we will blow you to smithereens,' added the ter- 
rorists. It was hardly likely that the gale that was blowing across 
the length and breadth of Hindustan would bypass the Punjab. 

Urban politicians took the lead in organizing protest meet- 
ings. The nationalist press supported their cause and in its 
eagerness to help enlarged the grievance against the coloniza- 
tion bill into a racial issue between the brown and the white man. 
The Tribune and the Punjabi were sued for libel by English 
officers; India and the Hindustan were prosecuted for sedition 
against the government. 19 

By March 1907 the atmosphere in the cities and the affected 
colonies had become tense. A new song was on the lips of the 
people 'pagri sambhal jatta — peasant, guard your turban.' Stu- 
dents of the Khalsa College, Amritsar, staged a hostile demon- 
stration at the farewell visit of the outgoing lieutenant governor, 
Sir Charles Rivaz. 20 Protest meetings in bigger cities were 
organized by lawyers and members of the Arya Samaj. 21 

19 The Hindustan addressed a message *to the native forces in British 
India: Bande Mataram, Sepoy mat bano — Salutation to the Motherland, do not 
join the army.' Civil and Military Gazette, 28 July 1907. 

20 Among the organizers of the student demonstrations was young Tara 
Singh, who was destined to become the dominant figure in Sikh politics. 

21 A leading part was taken by Lajpat Rai, Sufi Amba Prasad, and Ajit 
Singh of the Bharat Mata Society, and Pindi Das, editor of India. 

Rural Indebtedness and Agitation 


The fiftieth anniversary of the sepoy mutiny was chosen as the 
occasion for a province-wide protest. In some places, particu- 
larly Lyallpur, the demonstrations had to be dispersed by force. 
Lajpat Rai, Ajit Singh, and some lawyers who were suspected 
of fomenting the trouble were arrested. The first two were 
deported to Burma. 

Despite the repression, criticism of the bill continued un- 
abated. The authorities sensed that the measure had caused 
uneasiness among Sikh soldiers, 22 many of whom had relatives 
in the colony areas, and governor general, Lord Minto, vetoed 
the bill. The land tax and the water rate were reduced. 23 

The king emperor's birthday was made the excuse to pro- 
claim an amnesty, and the Punjab leaders returned home after 
six months in Burma. 24 

22 Mr Morley, secretary of state for India, in a speech in Parliament, 
said 4 In this agitation special attention, it is stated, has been paid to the 

Sikhs, who, as the House is aware, are among the best soldiers in India 

Special efforts have been made to secure their attendance at meetings to 
enlist their sympathies and to inflame their passions. So far active agitation 
has been virtually confined to the districts in which the Sikh element is 
predominant.' Indian Debates Session, 1907, House of Commons, 6 June 
1907, p. 177. 

It was the opinion of the Punjab government that of the 28 meetings 
organized by the agitators only five dealt with peasants' grievances; the 
rest were of a political nature. 

23 Returns of water tax are significant. The capital of 7 million sterling 
invested in the Punjab canals yielded in 1905-7 a handsome net profit 
of IOV2 per cent, whereas in the case of the Chenab Canal colonies the 
returns were nearly 22 per cent. It was in the Chenab colonies that the 
agitation was the strongest. O'Donnell, The Causes of Present Discontent in 
India, p. 98. 

24 The arrested lawyers were kept in gaol for five months before being 
released on bail. A few days later they were acquitted by the judge, 
Mr Martineau, because the evidence tendered by the prosecution was 
'untrustworthy and malicious'. Ibid., p. 100. 

11. World War I and its Aftermath 

Sikh Contribution to the War (1914-18) 

Ever since the Mutiny of 1857, the Sikhs formed a very sub- 
stantial portion of the British army. When war broke out, 
Sikh recruitment was speeded up. The number of Sikhs in 
the services rose from 35,000 at the beginning of 1915 to over 
100,000 by the end of the war, 1 forming about a fifth of the army 
in action. 

Recruitment from the princely states was more impressive 
than in British India. Over 60,000 men from Patiala (which 
had a total higher than the best of any British district and four 
times as much as that of any other Indian princely state) , Jind, 
Kapurthala, Nabha, Faridkot, and Kalsia went to the front. The 
maharajahs of Patiala, Jind, and Kapurthala offered their per- 
sonal services, and all the princes made generous contributions 
in cash and equipment. 

Sikh soldiers fought on all fronts of the war in Europe, Turkey, 
and Africa, and did credit to their race by their bravery. Of 
the 22 military crosses awarded for conspicuous gallantry 
to Indians, the Sikhs won 14. The official chronicler of the 
Punjabi war effort recorded: 'It is true that in practically every 
part of the province the Sikhs came forward in strength and 

1 M. S. Leigh, The Punjab and the War, p. 44. 

World War I and Aftermath 


established an all-round record which leaves little room for 
criticism. 2 

Aftermath of the War. 

Massacre of Amritsar, 13 April 1919 

Because the Sikh contribution to the war both in men and 
material was bigger than that of any other community of India, 
it was not altogether surprising that they exaggerated their role 
in the allied victory and expected to be specially rewarded for 
their services. They were, consequently, pained to find that local 
officials and the police continued to treat them as common 
rustics instead of heroes. They heard for the first time the full 
story of the maltreatment of Sikh emigrants by Canadian and 
American whites and of the Ghadr rising; 3 of the infamous 
conspiracy trials — the hangings, deportations, and the intern- 
ment in their villages of nearly 5000 of their Ghadrite co- 
religionists. Their fellow villagers also told them of the persecution 
by the authorities, of the Tndent System' by which every village 
had been forced to provide a certain number of recruits, 4 and 
the pressure used to raise war funds. 5 Other factors added fuel 

2 Ibid., pp. 107-9. 

On the conclusion of hostilities, Sikh legislative councillors lauded the 
services of their community. Gajjan Singh said: 'My community has supplied 
recruits in almost every Sikh district much larger in number as compared 
with the sister communities of the Muhammadans and Hindus — I am not 
in possession of correct figures but I believe that out of the nearly lour lakh 
brave sons of the Punjab who went to fight the battles of the King Emperor 
about one-third were members of my community. We, the Sikhs are very 
proud of this record. If we were proud of our loyalty and devotion to 
government we are prouder today.' PLCD, 20 November 1918, pp. 387-8. 

3 Discussed in Chapter 12. 

4 There was extra strain on manpower requirements in the last two 
years of the war. It was caused by the collapse of Russia and the rising 
of the Mahsud, Mohmand, and Mari tribes on the north-west frontier. 

5 The expression 'pressure and persuasion' was used by Lord Willingdon, 
governor of Bombay. Bombay police often sealed wells till the villagers paid 
the sum marked against them. B. G. Horniraam, Amritsar and Our Duty to 
India, p. 24. 


Political Movements 

to the smouldering fire. The summer monsoon failed; the rain 
harvest was extremely meagre; the cost of living rose higher than 
ever before. 6 Urban population was further hit by the imposition 
of a special income tax: the increase in some cases ranged from 
100 to 200 per cent. 7 To cap it all, an epidemic of influenza raged 
across the entire country taking a heavy toll of life. By the end 
of the year (1918), over 100,000 Punjabis had succumbed to the 
'flu. An atmosphere of disillusionment and depression came to 
prevail in the province. When the people needed succour and 
reassurance, a balm to soothe their nerves — the government 
rubbed salt into their wounds. 

Restrictive measures introduced during the war were not 
withdrawn; on the contrary, legislation of a more drastic nature 
was planned. Sir Michael O'Dwyer, lieutenant governor of the 
Punjab, scouted the notion of self-government for India as a 
preposterous figment of the mind of the urbanite babu and the 
wog barrister. 8 He prohibited nationalist leaders from entering 
the province and took stern measures to repress agitation against 
the Rowlatt 9 bills intended to combat revolutionary crime. In the 
Punjab, Sir Sidney Rowlatt came to be known by the sobriquet 
raula (turmoil). The drastic changes he proposed were summed 
up in the slogan: na datil, na vakil, na apil (no argument, no 

6 Wheat was 47 per cent above the normal price of 1914, foreign cloth 
175 per cent, Indian cloth 100 per cent, sugar 68 per cent higher than pre- 
war prices. German submarine warfare restricted imports; coal shortage 
cut down railway transport. 

7 Hunter Committee Report, Disorders Inquiry Committee Report, p. 152. 

8 *If it is clear that the demands emanate not from the mass of the 
people, whose interests are at stake, but from a small and not quite 
disinterested minority, naturally enough eager for power and place, we 
must, if we are faithful to our trust, place the interests of the silent masses 
before the clamour of the politicians however troublesome and insistent. 1 
Sir Michael O'Dwyer quoted in the Congress Punjab Inquiry Report 1919-20, 
p. 14. 

9 A Committee under Sir Sidney Rowlatt produced a report on revo- 
lutionary crime in India since 1907 and proposed a series of measures 
empowering the executive to override ordinary legal processes in dealing 
with violent political agitation. 

World War I and Aftermath 


lawyer, no appeal). Nevertheless, the bills became law in March 
1919. 10 

Mahatma Gandhi, who had been leading die agitation against 
the Rowlatt bills , called for a complete hartal (cessation of work) 
to mark the people's sense of resentment. There were riots and 
casualties caused by police firing in many cities. The Mahatma 
was arrested. 

In the Punjab, the protests were conducted in a peaceful and 
orderly manner till the police precipitated matters. In Amritsar, 
Doctors Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal, who had successfully 
organized a 'striking demonstration in furtherance of Hindu- 
Mohammedan unity' were arrested and whisked away to 
Dharamsala. 11 News of their deportation spread in the city, and 
a crowd of citizens proceeded to the deputy commissioner's 
bungalow to register their protest. The police stopped them en 
route and, in trying to disperse them, killed half a dozen people 
and wounded over 30. 12 The mob got out of hand and began to 
assault white people. It set fire to English-owned banks, a church, 
the offices of the Christian Religious Text Book Society, the 
telegraph office, and the town hall. In this riot five Englishmen 
were killed and an English missionary severely assaulted. The 
deputy commissioner's foolish action yielded a bitter harvest of 
racial hate. 

From Jullundur, Brigadier General R. E. H. Dyer 13 arrived with 
troops and armoured cars. The next afternoon when he marched 

10 These were the Indian Criminal Law Amendment Bill and the 
Criminal Law (Emergency Powers) Bill. They were introduced in February 
1919 and passed within a month. 

1 1 Hunter Committee Report, Disorders Inquiry Committee Report, p. 9. 
'Mussalmans and Hindus have united — I have been expecting 

this... there is a big show coming.' General Dyer to his son on leaving 
Jullundur for Amritsar. Colvin, Life of General Dyer, p. 163. 

12 The figure of casualties in the Congress Punjab Inquiry Report was 
twenty dead and many wounded (p. 48). 

13 R. E. H. Dyer (1864-1927) belonged to a well-known family of 
brewers, Dyer Meakin & Co., of northern India. He was schooled in Simla 
and later in Sandhurst. He got his commission in 1886 and served mostly 
in India. 


Political Movements 

his troops through the bazaars he was greeted with shouts of 
Hindu-Mussalman kijai and Mahatma Gandhi kljai. In the evening 
he received information of vandalism: cutting of telegraph wires 
and tampering with fishplates on the railway track. The general 
proclaimed a state of emergency and declared all meetings 
illegal. Meanwhile the local Congress had already announced a 
meeting at Jallianwala Bagh for the Baisakhi fair. From the early 
hours of the morning, Sikhs, for whom the first of Baisakh was 
also the birth anniversary of the Khalsa, started arriving at the 
Golden Temple. Those who had come from the outlying villages 
and had not heard of the proclamation went to the nearby 
Jallianwala garden to while away the hours till it was cool enough 
to return home. Local Congress leaders utilized the opportunity 
to tell them about the occurrences of the previous day. For the 
Sikh villagers it was just another diversion, a tamasa. 

As soon as General Dyer received news of the meeting, he 
marched a platoon of infantry to Jallianwala. He occupied the 
only entrance and exit to the garden and, without giving any 
warning to the people to disperse, opened fire. He killed 379 and 
wounded over 2000. He imposed a curfew on the city and 
returned to his camp leaving the dying with the dead without any 
possibility of help reaching them. When the news was conveyed 
to Sir Michael O'Dwyer, he fully approved of the action. 14 

Martial law was proclaimed in Amritsar and subsequently 
extended to other districts: Lahore, Gujranwala, Lyallpur, and 

Martial Law in the Punjab 

Hartals and black-flag processions to protest against the Rowlatt 
bills had taken place in most cities of the Punjab, and in some 

14 'I approved of General Dyer's action in dispersing by force the 
rebellious gathering and thus preventing further rebellious acts — Speak- 
ing with perhaps a more intimate knowledge of the then situation than 
anyone else. I have no hesitation in saying that General Dyer's action that 
day was the decisive factor in crushing the rebellion, the seriousness of 
which is only now being generally realised.' Hunter Committee Report, 
Disorders Inquiry Committee Report, p. 48. 

World War I and Aftermath 


the police had dispersed passive resisters by opening fire on 
them. After Jallianwala, the demonstrations took an extremely 
violent form. Bridges, churches, post offices, and other public 
buildings were burnt; telegraph and telephone lines were cut; 
railway lines torn up; white men assaulted. The army took over 
the administration, and whatever vestiges of a civilized govern- 
ment had remained also vanished. 

General Dyer's actions at Amritsar set the tone of 'Dyerarchy' 
(the word coined for lawlessness) for the rest of the province. 
He had the city's water and electric supply cut off. In the 
street where a missionary lady had been assaulted, he made 
Indian passers-by crawl on their bellies; people were flogged 
without trial; bicycles, carts, and cars 'other than those owned 
by Europeans' were commandeered. Lawyers were compulso- 
rily recruited as special constables and made to patrol the 
streets; specially constituted courts tried nearly 300 men and 
summarily sentenced 51 to death and hundreds of others to 
terms of imprisonment. 

Lahore suffered a worse fate than Amritsar. The army 
administrator ordered tradesmen to open their shops on pain 
of being shot and having their stores distributed free to the 
public; not more than two persons were allowed to walk abreast 
on the sidewalks; electric fans and other electric gadgets 
belonging to Indians were requisitioned for the use of British 
soldiers; Badshahi mosque, where meetings had taken place, 
was closed except for the Friday prayers; for several days 
flogging was carried out in public. Educated classes came in 
for special attention. Students of several Lahore colleges were 
ordered to report four times daily — in some cases four miles 
away from their colleges. 

Kasur, where two Englishmen had been murdered, was 
collectively punished with fines and public flogging of suspects; 
an Indian who failed to saldm a white man was made to nib his 
or her nose on the ground; a local poet was ordered to compose 
verses in praise of martial law and its administrator; gallows 
were erected in the market place to strike terror in the 


Political Movements 

Gujranwala and its neighbouring villages were subjected to 
bombing and machine-gunning from the air; one of the targets 
successfully hit was the Khalsa High School at Gujranwala, 
where many people were killed and wounded. 

Other places in the Punjab which suffered at the hands of 
martial law administrators were Wazirabad, Nizamabad, 
Akalgarh, Ram Nagar, Hafrzabad, Sheikhupura, Chuharkana, 
Sangla, Moman, Manianwala, Nawanpind, Jalapur Jattan (a Sikh 
village), Malakwal, Lyallpur, Gojra and Chak No. 149 (colonized 
by Sikh Jats), and Gujarat. In the seven weeks that the Punjab 
was administered by martial law nearly 1200 were killed and 
at least 3600 wounded. 15 

The effect that Jallianwala and martial law administration 
had on the people of the Punjab can hardly be exaggerated. 
Racial tension, reminiscent of the most savage days of the 
mutiny when every white man looked upon the coloured as his 
enemy, was recreated. Even people of tried loyalty, including 
those who had sewed in the forces, were victimized. Sir Michael 
O'Dwyer, who claimed that he had saved the empire, had in fact 

15 The Jallianwala Bagh massacre and the martial law regime was 
subjected to the most searching enquiry by a committee appointed by the 
Indian National Congress headed by Mahatma Gandhi himself. The 
committee severely censured the lieutenant governor, Sir Michael O'Dwy- 
er, General Dyer, and the English officers concerned. Subsequently, the 
government appointed its own committee for the same purpose. It was 
presided over by Lord Hunter and consisted of seven other members, 
including three Indians. The Hunter Commission was unanimous in its 
verdict on General Dyer's action and recommended his dismissal. On the 
other issues, the English and the Indian members were at variance; the 
latter submitted a minority report. 

The matter was also debat ed in the British Parliament. Winston Churchill 
made the most scathing criticism of General Dyer's action — he described 
it as 'an episode which appeared to be without parallel in the modern 
history of the British Empire... an extraordinary event, a monstrous event, 
an event which stood in singular and sinister isolation.' R. Furneaux, 
Massacre at Amiitsar, p. 153. 

General Dyer had his supporters. The Morning Post raised a fund for 
him and he was presented with a golden sword as 'Defender of the Empire'. 
The general received a sum of £26,317 from his English admirers. 

World War I and Aftermath 


dealt it the most grievous blow by alienating almost all Indians, 
including its staunchest supporters, the Sikhs. 1 *' 

General Dyer tried to win over the Sikhs as best he could. He 
summoned the manager of the Golden Temple and Sunder 
Singh Majithia and asked them to use their influence with the 
Sikhs in favour of the government. He sent out movable columns 
through the Sikh villages to wean them away from the influence 
of mischief makers and to prove that the sircar was still strong. 
Priests of the Golden Temple invited the general to the sacred 
shrine and presented him with a siropa (turban and kirpan). 

Mahatma Gandhi later visited Jallianwala Bagh and the sites 
where atrocities had been committed by the army and the police. 
He addressed mammoth gatherings and told the people that the 
most important quality for a patriot was to be nirbhai — fearless. 
Under his inspiration a new organization, the Central Sikh League, 
consisting of nationalists who were opposed to the Chief Khalsa 
Diwan's toadying to the British, came into existence. 

16 Sir Michael O'Dwyer was murdered by a Sikh, Udham Singh, at a 
public meeting in London on 13 March 1940. Udham Singh was hanged 
on 13 June 1940. 

12. Xenophobic Marxism 

Sikh Emigration to Canada and 
the United States 

In the early years of the present century, Sikh peasants, driven 
by economic conditions in their home province to seek 
livelihood in other Asian countries, began to migrate in small 
numbers to Canada 1 and the United States. They found employ- 
ment in laying the track of the Canadian Pacific Railways, in 
lumber mills, and mines. Although their wages were lower than 
those of the white workers, they were able to save enough to 
send money home and so encourage their friends and relatives 
to join them. By the autumn of 1906 there were over 1500 Sikh 
workers in or near Vancouver. During the next few years, another 
5000 entered British Columbia. The immigration of large 
numbers of Chinese and Japanese had already created an anti- 
Asian feeling among Canadians; this ill-will was diverted against 
the Sikhs, who looked more distinctive with their turbans and 
long-flowing beards and were less docile than their fellow 

1 The presence of Indians attracted official notice in 1904 when 258 
'Hindus' (a term applied by Canadians and Americans to all Indians 
irrespective of their religion) were listed in the census of British Columbia. 
Over 90 per cent of the Indian emigrants to Canada and the United States 
were Sikhs — of these over 90 per cent of those who went to Canada settled 
in British Columbia and over 90 per cent of those who went to the United 
States settled in California. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


Orientals. 2 In a short time Sikhs became the cynosure of 
Canadian eyes. 3 Assaults on Sikh workers became a feature of 

2 To whip up racial prejudice, stories were spread that the Punjabis were 
polygamous, full of caste prejudices, unclean in their personal habits, 
riddled with disease (particularly trachoma), and therefore altogether 
unassimilable. A song which became popular at the time in British Colum- 
bia was entitled 'White Canada for Ever*. 

This the voice of the West and it speaks to the world: 
The rights that our fathers have given 
We'll hold by right and maintain by might, 
Till the foe is backward driven. 
We welcome as brothers all white men still, 
But the shifty yellow race, 
Whose word is vain, who oppress the weak, 
Must find another place. 

Then let us stand united all 

And show our father's might, 

That won the home we call our own, 

For white man's land we fight. 

To oriental grasp and greed 

We'll surrender, no never. 

Our watchword be 'God save the King' 

White Canada for ever. 

3 In October 1906, a ship bringing a party of Indians had to be diverted 
to Victoria because the mayor refused to allow it to dock in Vancouver 
harbour. A mass meeting was held in Vancouver Town Hall on 18 October 
1906, at which resolutions were passed against further immigration of 
Indians. Some voices were raised in protest on behalf of the Sikhs^ among 
them was that of Henry H. Gladstone (nephew of the famous prime 
minister), who had served 15 years in India. Answering the charge that 
Indians had filthy habits, he wrote: 'The Sikhs are scrupulously clean 
and I regard them as a very fine race of men.' Pacific Monthly, Vol. 17 of 

Dr S, H. Lawson, who was a ship's surgeon on the Canadian Pacific 
Railway steamers Monteagle and Tartar, wrote: 'It was my duty to make I 
a thorough physical examination of each immigrant at Hong Kong and, 
although at first I was strongly prejudiced against them, I lost this prejudice 
after thousands of them had passed through my hands and I had compared 
them with white steerage passengers I had seen on the Atlantic. I refer in 
particular to the Sikhs and I am not exaggerating in the least when I say 
that they were one hundred per cent cleaner in their habits and freer from 


Political Movements 

daily life in Vancouver. 4 Unemployment consequent upon a 
slump in the lumber trade accentuated the competition between 
white and coloured workers. White trade unions pressed the 
Federal government to exclude coloured immigrants. As a 
result of the measures passed, only six Indians were allowed to 
enter Canada in 1909. 

The fact that Sikh immigrants were British subjects created 
legal complications. British Columbian legislation required the 
sanction of the Federal government; the Federal government 
had to consult the government of the United Kingdom, which in 
its turn had to watch the reaction of the Government of India. 
Canada's immigration policy vis-a-vis the Indians was thus 
formulated after prolonged negotiations between Vancouver, 
Ottawa, London, and Calcutta. All the governments were how- 
ever agreed that British Columbians had every right to exclude 
Indian immigrants; their only concern was that measures should 
be so framed that no suspicion of racial discrimination should 
attach to them. 5 

From 1907 onwards, British Columbia's state legislature 
passed several enactments to check Indian immigration and 

disease than the European steerage passengers I had come in contact with. 
The Sikhs impressed me as a clean, manly, honest race. My more recent 
impressions as a surgeon in mining camps among thousands of white men, 
where immorality is rife, has increased my respect for the Sikhs.' The 
Indians Appeal to Canada, p. 11; R. K. Das, Hindustani Workers on the Pacific 
Coast, p. 75. 

4 There were anti-Asian riots in the city of Vancouver in July 1907. These 
were largely directed against the Chinese and Japanese and resulted in 
$36,000 worth of damage to property. The Sikhs escaped by discreetly 
remaining indoors. 

5 At first an attempt was made to persuade the immigrants to leave 
Canada voluntarily and settle instead in British Honduras. It was believed 
that in view of the unemployment in British Columbia in the years 1907 and 
1908 this proposal would receive favourable response. A delegation of 
representative Sikhs visited the Honduras, studied the conditions and 
recommended that their countrymen reject the proposal as the wages in 
the Honduras, where most of the labour was indentured, were low and the 
climatic conditions were unsuitable for Punjabis. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


prohibit employment of Indians in certain industries. These 
enactments were invalidated by the courts. The Government of 
India was then requested to stop immigration at source. 6 

In 1908, Mr McKenzie King 7 (later prime minister of Canada) 
visited London and Calcutta to press the Canadian point of view. 
As a result the Government of India ordered shipping companies 
to stop advertising travel facilities and employment opportuni- 
ties on the American continent and invoked the provisions of the 
Emigration Act 1883 8 to prevent Indians leaving for Canada. The 
Canadian government itself passed two orders-in-council to deal 
with the ingress of Indian nationals living abroad. One raised the 
sum of money required to be in the possession of an intending 
immigrant from $25 to $200; the other authorized the minister 
of the interior to prohibit entry 7 of travellers unless they came 
'from the country of their birth or citizenship by a continuous 
journey, and on through tickets purchased before leaving the 
country of their birth or citizenship.^ Both these orders were 

6 Sir Wilfred Laurie r, prime minister of Canada, repeated the allega- 
tion that the Indians were 'unsuited to live in the climatic conditions of 
British Columbia and were a serious disturbance to industrial and eco- 
nomic conditions in portions of the Dominions.' Order-in-council, 2 March 

In a letter to the viceroy. Lord Minto, Sir Wilfred wrote, 'Strange to say 
the Hindus . . . are looked upon by our people in British Columbia with still 
more disfavour than the Chinese. They seem to be less adaptable to our 
ways and manners than all the other Oriental races that come to us.' April 
1909, quoted by Morse in his unpublished thesis 'Immigration and Status 
of British East Indians in Canada,' 27. 

7 In 1907 he headed the Royal Commission appointed to enquire into 
methods by which Oriental labour had been induced to migrate to Canada. 

8 The Emigration Act XXI of 1883 was passed to safeguard the interests 
of indentured labour. Emigration was only allowed to countries which had 
passed legislation to protect the interests of emigrants and were listed in 
the schedule. Canada was not listed in the schedule. 

9 The reactions of the Government of India (to which Sikh immigrants 
naturally looked for protection) to these regulations and enactments can 
be gauged from the correspondence between the viceroy, Lord Minto, and 
the Canadian premier. Lord Minto wrote: 'We have published the condi- 
tions imposed by Canada widely, with the result that emigration has ceased 
altogether and we consider there is practically no chance of its being 


Political Movements 

specifically directed against the Indians. Chinese and Japanese 
immigrants were exempted from the provision regarding the 
possession of $200; the 'continuous passage' regulation was even 
more pointedly aimed at the Indians as it was known that no 
company ran ships directly from India to Canada (a transhipment 
at Hong Kong, Shanghai, or some other port was necessary) and 
India had no ships of her own. 10 

The orders-in-council were made substantive law by amend- 
ing the existing act and then incorporating all the prohibitory 
clauses in the Immigration Act of 1910. Discriminatory legisla- 
tion compelled many hundreds of Indians to leave Canada. The 
Indian population in British Columbia, which had exceeded 5000 
in 1908, fell to less than half in 1911. 11 

Having stopped Indian immigration, the Canadian government 
devised means to expel Indians who had come in before the 
passing of the restrictive measures. The 'continuous voyage' and 

reopened. . .we raised no objection to the methods adopted by Canada and 
we have not any intention of raising any questions regarding them.' Letter 
dated 1 March 1909. Morse, 'Immigration and Status of British East 
Indians in Canada' (unpublished thesis), pp. 40-1. 

10 Mr H. H. Stevens, MP from Vancouver, who took a leading part in 
mobilizing Canadian opinion against Indian immigrants, admitted that the 
minister who drafted the order 'knew, and his government knew, that there 
was no steamship line direct from India to Canada and therefore this 
regulation would keep the Hindu out, and at the same time render the 
government immune from attack on the ground that they were passing 
regulations against the interests of Hindus who are British subjects.' House 
of Commons Debates 1914, No. 1233. 

The first victims of the orders-in-council were 200 Indians (mostly 
Sikhs) who came to Vancouver in March 1908 on the Monteagle; 18 who 
had waited for the boat at Hong Kong were debarred because they had 
not come by direct passage from India; another 105 who had boarded the 
ship at Calcutta were turned back because they could not furnish proof 
that they were not impostors and were the very men who had purchased 
the tickets at Calcutta. Morse, 'Immigration and Status of British East 
Indians in Canada,' p. 36. 

1 1 The census figure for 191 1 was 2342 Hindus, of which all but 27 were 
in British Columbia. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


the $200 clauses were invoked to prevent wives and children 12 
rejoining their husbands and fathers in Canada. 

The Immigration Act of 1910 came up for scrutiny before the 
Canadian Supreme Court in 1913. A party of 39 Indians (mostly 
Sikhs) had come to British Columbia by a Japanese ship, the 
Panama Maru, and succeeded in obtaining writ of habeas corpus 
against the Immigration Department's order of deportation. 13 
Within a fortnight of the passing of the judgment, the Canadian 
government promulgated a new order-in-council forbidding 
entry of 'artisans or labourers, skilled or unskilled ... at any port 
of British Columbia'. 14 A month later, the 'continuous passage' 
and the $200 clauses were reintroduced through new orders-in- 
council carefullv worded to circumvent the verdict of the Su- 
preme Court. The door to Canada was firmly shut with a notice 
printed on the outside in invisible ink reading 'Indians keep out'. 

Sikh immigration to the United States was a spillover from 
Canada. In the three years from 1904 to 1906 about 600 Indians 

12 The case of Indian wives came up early in 1912 when two Sikh 
residents of Vancouver, Bhag Singh and Balwant Singh (president and 
priest, respectively, of the Vancouver gurdwara), returned to British Colum- 
bia with their families. The men were allowed to re-enter, but their wives 
were ordered to be deported. Indians appealed against the order, but 
before the Supreme Court could pronounce on the case, the Immigration 
Department allowed the women and children in question to remain in 
Canada, 'as an act of Grace, without establishing a precedent.' House of 
Commons Debates 1912, No. 2457. 

13 In Re. Narain Singh et al., No. 18 British Columbia Law Reports 1913. 
Shortly before Chief Justice Hunter delivered his judgment in favour of the 
Indians, the Immigration Department — perhaps to forestall the results of 
a pending appeal — ignored the writ of habeas corpus granted temporarily 
by a judge of the Supreme Court to one Bhagwar Singh Gyani, the leader 
of Sikh settlers on the Chinese coast, and deported him. 

14 PC 23624 of 1914 and PC 2642 of 1913. Only Orientals entered 
Canada through British Columbia. Of the Orientals, the Japanese were 
exempted by virtue of a 'gentleman's agreement' with their government; 
and the act was not invoked in the case of the Chinese. Thus the Canadian 
government again succeeded in discriminating against the Indians without 
having to use the word. 


Political Movements 

(mainly Sikhs) crossed over into the United States. As the 
Canadian Immigration Department became stricter, the num- 
ber of immigrants to the States increased. 15 Immigrants found 
employment as farmhands and lumberjacks in Washington, 
Oregon, and California. Small communities of Sikhs grew up in 
the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys. Some went further 
south to the Imperial Valley, where the climate was similar to 
that in the Punjab. On receiving favourable accounts of condi- 
tions in the States, other Sikhs began to go directly to California. 
American whites, however, reacted even more violently than the 
Canadians. In 1908 a body known as the Asiatic Exclusion 
League organized pogroms against Orientals. For the next two 
years few Indians were able to enter the States. When there was 
a lull in these race riots, immigration started again and by the 
end of 1910 there were nearly 6000 Indians in California. Once 
again racial hatred was whipped up by the local press against 
the 'turbaned tide' and the 'ragheads'. The United States Immi- 
gration Department did not bother with legal niceties; it turned 
back Indians for one or the other of three reasons: 'liable to 
public charge/ 'suffering from dangerous contagious disease/ 
or 'violates alien contract labour law'. 16 Thus the doors of the 
United States were also slammed in the face of the Sikh immi- 
grants, and those who had succeeded in entering had to face 
constant harassment from the police and white racists. 

Founding of the Ghadr Party 

Since the vast majority of Indian immigrants were Sikhs, the 
earliest immigrant organizations centred on Sikh gurdwaras. In 
1907 the Khalsa Diwan Society was organized in Vancouver with 
branches at Victoria, Abbotsford, New Westminster, Fraser 
Mills, Duncan Coombs, and Ocean Falls. This Society built a 

15 1072 in 1907 and 1710 in 1908. Report of the Commission General for 
Immigration 1919-20, 181-2; quoted by R. K. Das in Hindustani Workers on 
the Pacific Coast. 

16 Pacific Monthly, Vol. 17 of 1907, p. 584. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


gurdwara in Vancouver in 1909. Three years later another temple 
was erected in Victoria and, somewhat later, smaller ones in 
other towns. The Khalsa Diwan Society of the United States built 
a gurdwara at Stockton. Although the objects of the Diwan were 
religious, educational, and philanthropic, problems connected 
with immigration and incidents of racial discrimination began 
to loom large in its proceedings. 

Alongside the purely Sikh Diwan, there grew other Indian 
societies to safeguard the economic interests of Indian workers 
and to fight cases against immigration authorities. The United 
India League operated in Vancouver; the Hindustani Association 
of the Pacific Coast was set up in Astoria. Since the only public 
places where Indians could meet were the gurdwaras, they 
became storm centres of political activity. The Sikh Diwan and 
other organizations began to publish tabloid papers in Gurmukhi, 
Urdu, and English. 17 

A large number of Sikh immigrants were ex-soldiers or po- 
licemen to whom loyalty to the British Crown was an article of 
faith. It was only after they had failed to get any response from 
Buckingham Palace and the Viceregal Lodge that the words gora 
(white man) and gone sahl (white man's lawlessness) acquired 
a pejorative connotation and they began to lend ear to more 
radical counsel given by men such as Lajpat Rai, who visited 
them in Canada and the United States. New leaders came to the 

17 None of these journals had a very long life. The first venture in this 
line is said to have been started bv a Bengali, Tarak Nath Das, and ended 
on the editor's deportation a few months later. Copies of the following 
journals are in the library of Berkeley University: Des Seiuak published in 
Gurmukhi and Urdu by Harnam Singh and Guru Datt Kumar from 
Vancouver; Khalsa Herald, a Gurmukhi monthly started in 1911 in Vancouver 
by Kartar Singh Akali; Aryan, an English journal edited by Dr Sunder Singh 
with the help of Quakers; Sansdr (1912), edited by Kartar Singh Akali, was 
later merged with the Aryan; Hindustani (1914), an English journal edited 
by Seth Hussain Rahim. Dr Sunder Singh later edited Canada and India 
from Toronto which continued appearing till 1917. Kartar Singh Akali also 
shifted to Toronto and for some years edited The Theosophiral \ J ews. 

The author was unable to find any journals published by the Indian 
immigrants in the United States except the Ghadr. 


Political Movements 

fore. In California, Hardayal of Delhi, 18 who was a lecturer in 
Stanford University, became for a short while the political mentor 
of the immigrants. A dual leadership grew up: effective control 
remained in the hands of the largely illiterate Sikh workers. 19 
Since the immigrants had to deal with lawyers and government 
departments, they had to have spokesmen who could speak 
English. 20 Friction between Hindu intelligentsia' and Sikh work- 
ers was inevitable. The Sikhs looked down upon the Hindus as 
English-speaking babus who did not have the courage of their 
convictions. The Hindus treated the Sikhs with the contempt 
with which lawyers generally treat their rustic clientele. 

Jwala Singh and Hardayal took the initiative in organizing 
the immigrants at Stockton and set up a body entitled the 
Hindustani Workers of the Pacific Coast. Sohan Singh Bhakna, 
(b. 1870) who was then working in a lumber mill at Oregon, and 
Hardayal were elected president and secretary, respectively. 
(Jwala Singh remained behind the scene but provided most of 
the funds, including scholarships of Indian students.) The party 
bought premises in San Francisco and began publishing a weekly 
paper called Ghadr (revolution) in Urdu and later many other 
Indian languages — the largest issue being in Gurmukhi. There- 
after the organization came to be known as the Ghadr party. The 
first issue of the paper stated the objective of the party in the 
following terms: 

'Today, there begins in foreign lands, but in our country's 
language, a war against the British Raj... What is our name? 

18 Hardayal (1884-1938) belonged to a Kayastha family of Delhi. He 
possessed a phenomenal memory and broke many university examination 
records. He came to be known as the 4 Great Hardayal'. His book, Hints on 
Self Culture, does not betray any signs of genius. He was also eccentric in his 
political views. After the First World War he lived in Sweden, taught Indian 
philosophy at Upsala, and published an apology for British rule in India. 

19 Represented in British Columbia by men such as Bhag Singh; in 
California by Jwala Singh (a prosperous rancher of Stockton known as the 
'potato king'), Santokh Singh, Sohan Singh Bhakna, and Bhagwan Singh 

20 In British Columbia they sought guidance from Tarak Nath Das and 
Chagan Lai Verma alias Seth Hussain Rahim; in California from Hardayal. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


Ghadr. What is our work? Ghadr. Where will Ghadr break out? 
In India. The time will soon come when rifles and blood will take 
the place of pen and ink/ 21 

Beneath the name of the paper on the front page was the 
legend: 'Enemy of the British Government'. This was further 
elucidated in the third issue of the journal, which dealt with the 
impending war in Europe: 'The Germans have great sympathy 
with our movement for liberty because they and ourselves have 
a common enemy (the English) . In the future Germany can draw 
assistance from us and they can render us great assistance 
also/ 22 

Within a few months, the Ghadr began to circulate among 
Indian settlers in Canada, Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, 
China, the Malaya States, Singapore, British Guiana, Trinidad, 
the Honduras, south and east Africa, and other countries where 
there were Indian communities. Thousands of copies were also 
sent to India. 23 Then took place an incident which drew the 

21 Ghadr, 1 November 1913. 

22 Ibid., 15 November 1913. 

23 Many articles and poems from the Ghadr were reprinted in booklets, 
of which four became very popular, viz. (i) Ghadr-dl-Gunj (Echoes of the 
Mutiny), (2) Mn-i-Jang (Declaration of War), (3) Naya Zamana (the New 
Age), and (4) The Balance Sheet of British Rule in India. 

The following extracts are from Ghadr-di-Gu nj. 
No pundits or mullahs do we need, 
No prayers or litanies we need recite. 
These will only scuttle our boat. 
Draw the sword; 'tis time to fight. 

(Vol. I, No. 4) 
Though Hindus, Mussalmans and Sikhs we be, 
Sons of Bharat are we still, 
Put aside our arguments for another day, 
Call of the hour is to kill. 

(Vol. i. No. 23) 

Some worship the cow; others, swine abhor, 
The white man eats them at every place; 
Forget you are Hindu, forget you are Mussalman, 
Pledge yourselves to your land and race. 

(Vol. i, No. 17) 


Political Movements 

attention of the world to the plight of Indian immigrants in 
Canada; this was the arrival of the Komagata Maru in Canadian 

The Komagata Maru 

On the morning of 23 May 1914, a Japanese passenger ship, the 
Komagata Maru, dropped anchor in the Burrard inlet — a narrow 
arm of the sea between the mountains and the city of Vancouver, 
Aboard the vessel were 376 Indians, of whom all but 30 were 
Sikhs. Their leader was one Gurdit Singh, who had a prosperous 
business at Singapore. Gurdit Singh had chartered the vessel 
for six months and collected his passengers from India and 
ports en route; Hong Kong, Shanghai, Kobe, and Yokohama. 

The progress of the Komagata Maru was reported in British 
Columbian papers as a * mounting Oriental invasion'. When the 
ship arrived in Canadian waters, it was cordoned off and only 
22 men who could prove their Canadian domicile were allowed 
to land. The rest were told to go back. Pressure was brought to 
bear upon Gurdit Singh to pay the charter dues immediately or 
suffer the ship to be impounded or forcibly returned to Hong 
Kong. Gurdit Singh's protests that he could only pay the money 
after he had fulfilled his contract with the passengers by getting 
them into Canada and had sold the cargo which he had on board 
were ignored. 

Sikh labourers in Canada raised $22,000 to pay for the 
charter. They appealed to the Canadian people and government 
for justice, sent telegrams to the king, the Duke of Connaught, 
the viceroy, and Indian leaders in India and England. There were 
public meetings in several cities of the Punjab to express 
sympathy with the passengers of the Komagata Maru. Mrs Annie 
Besant took up the cause in the British press. 24 Little notice was 

24 The reaction of The Times (London) was typical. In a leader (4 June 
1914): 'Phrases like British citizenship cannot be used as a talisman to 
open doors... sophistry and catch logic, the spinning of words or the 
reading of many books will not help her (India). And she is likely to get 
little profit out of enterprises like that which has sent the Komagata Maru 
to hurl its shipload of hundreds at the door of Canada/ 

Xenophobic Marxism 


taken, however, of this agitation by the British, Indian, 25 or 
Canadian governments. The prime minister of British Columbia, 
Sir Richard MacBride, stated categorically: To admit Orientals 
in large numbers would mean in the end the extinction of the 
white peoples and we have always in mind the necessity of 
keeping this a white man's country/ 26 

The 'Shore Committee' of Vancouver Sikhs took the case of 
the Komagata Mam to court. A full bench of the Supreme Court 
decided that the new orders-in-council barred judicial tribunals 
from interfering with the decisions of the Immigration Depart- 
ment. 27 The passengers took over control of the ship from the 
Japanese crew and refused to leave until a cruiser threatened 
to fire on them. After two months of Canadian hospitality, the 
Komagata Mara slipped out into the Pacific. 28 

In a leader, on 9 July 1914, 'The Times said: "East is East and West is 
West," and though we may hesitate to accept as inevitable the corollary 
that "never the twain shall meet"; it would be futile to deny the immediate 
difference between them.' 

25 Lord Hardinge's subsequent statements show clearly that he was out 
of sympathy with the Indian immigrants. In a speech to his council on 8 
September 1914, he said that the voyage of the Komagata Maru had been 
undertaken without the cognizance or approval of the Indian government 
and was in contravention of Canada's immigration laws. He spoke of the 
generosity of the Canadians in supplying the Komagata Maru with 4000 
dollars worth of provisions and summed up his own attitude in the following 
words: 'The development of this incident was watched by the Government 
of India with the closest attention; but that as the question at issue was of 
a purely legal character, there was no occasion for intervention.' Gazette of 
India, 19 September 1914, p. 973. 

26 The Times, London, 23 May 1914. 

27 In Re. Munshi Singh No. 20, 1914. British Columbia Law Reports 
(p. 245) decided on 7 July 1914. 

28 In Vancouver, a trail of violence followed the departure of the 
Komagata Mam. The Immigration Department had engaged the services 
of a Eurasian policeman, William Hopkinson, to break up the Ghadr 
organization. Hopkinson' s chief aide was one Bela Singh. Two of Bela 
Singh's henchmen were found murdered. At the post-funeral service of 
these murdered men in the gurdwara, Bela Singh killed two and wounded 
six other men. William Hopkinson volunteered to appear as a witness for 
the defence in the trial of Bela Singh. On 21 October 1914, Hopkinson was 


Political Movements 

The travails of the Komagata Maru were not yet over. None of 
her passengers was allowed to land at Hong Kong or Singapore 
(where several had their homes). The boat finally arrived at the 
mouth of the Hoogly and docked at Budge Budge harbour. It was 
searched by the police, but no arms were found. 29 War had 
broken out while the Komagata Maru was still at sea, and the 
government had empowered itself with the right to restrict the 
liberty of returning emigrants. The passengers were ordered to 
board a train which was to take them to the Punjab. The Sikhs 
refused to obey* 0 and left the ship in a procession, carrying the 

shot and killed by Mewa Singh, the pr iest of a gurdwara. Mewa Singh was 
sentenced to death. Prior to his execution he made a confessional state- 
ment which ran: 'My religion does not teach me to bear enmity with 
anybody, no matter what class, creed or order he belongs to, nor had I any 
enmity with Hopkinson. I heard that he was oppressing my poor people very 
much . . . I — being a staunch Sikh— could no longer bear to see the wrong 

done both to my innocent countrymen and the Dominion of Canada And, 

I, performing the duty of a true Sikh and remembering the name of God, 
will proceed towards the scaffold with the same amount of pleasure as the 
hungry babe does towards its mother. I shall gladly have the rope put 
around my neck thinking it to be a rosary of God's name....' 

Mewa Singh was hanged on 11 January 1915. The anniversary of Mewa 
Singh's martyrdom is celebrated every year by the Sikhs of Canada and 
the USA. 

29 This fact is important in view of the charge subsequently made by 
the police that the Sikhs of the Komagata Maru used firearms. A secret 
report prepared by senior CID officers, Messrs F. C. Isemonger and 
Slattery states: 'While there was no obstruction to the search of baggage 
it was impossible on the crowded ship to make this thorough.' An Account 
of the Ghadr Conspiracy, p. 81. 

Gurdit Singh himself writes 'all the illegitimate things with the pas- 
sengers were either thrown overboard in the sea or restored to the 

Japanese The deck passengers were thoroughly searched — Thank 

Heaven that nothing incriminating in the eyes of the Lord was found on us.' 
Gurdit Singh, Voyage of the Komagata Maru, Pan u, pp. 31-4. 

30 Gurdit Singh explained to the police officers who served them with 
the notice that his dispute with the steamship company had to be settled 
by arbitration at Calcutta; that the cargo on the Komagata Maru, which was 
his property, had to be disposed of; that he had still to recover $25,000 
from the passengers who expected to get the money from friends and 

Xenophobic Marxism 


Grarith in their midst. The police and a unit of the army barred 
their progress. A fracas ensued: the police opened fire, killing 
18 men and wounding another 25. 31 Gurdit Singh and 28 of his 
companions escaped. The rest were rounded up and sent to the 
Punjab, where over 200 of them were interned under the Ingress 

'Revolution' in the Punjab 

Leaders of the Ghadr party had prepared themselves for the war 
in Europe. Since Canada was a part of the British empire, they 
decided to shift their revolutionary activities to the United States. 
A week after war was declared, a mass meeting of Indians took 
place at Sacramento. Several thousand men volunteered for 
terrorist work in India, and funds were collected to pay for their 
passage; there was a rush to catch boats leaving for India. 32 
At this critical juncture, the Ghadr party was deprived of its 
leaders, Jwala Singh and Sohan Singh Bhakna enlisted for revo- 
lutionary service in India; Hardayal, who had been arrested 
earlier on a charge of anarchy, jumped bail and escaped to 
Switzerland. In their absence the control of the party in Califor- 
nia fell to Ram Chandra, a Brahmin from Peshawar. 

relatives in Calcutta; that the men who had spent nearly six months on 
board wanted time to settle their accounts with each other; and that most 
of the passengers wished to stay in Calcutta, where they could get 
employment, rather than return to their villages where they had now no land 
or tenements. Ibid., Part II, pp. 40-3. 

31 A Commission of Enquiry appointed by the government exonerated 
the police and put the blame squarely on the passengers of the Komagata 
Maru. The commission consisted of three Englishmen and two Indians, Sir 
Bijoy Chand, the maharajah of Burdwan, who had already earned notoriety 
for his contemptuous remarks about Indian nationalists and Daljit Singh 
of Kapurthala. Daljit Singh was subsequently knighted for his 'services'. 

32 The Portland Telegram of Oregon had the following caption in its issue 
of 7 August 1914: 'Hindus go home to fight in Revolution.' 

Astoria (Oregon) 7 August 1914: 'Every train and boat for the south 
carries a large number of Hindus from this city, and if the exodus keeps 
up much longer, Astoria will be entirely deserted by the East Indians/ 


Political Movements 

The first band of revolutionaries, led by Jwala Singh, sailed 
from San Francisco in August 1914 by the Korea. Ram Chandra 
addressed them in the following words: 

'Your duty is clear. Go to India. Stir up rebellion in everv 
corner of the country. Rob the wealthy and show mercy to the 
poor. In this way gain universal sympathy. Arms will be provided 
for you on arrival in India. Failing this, you must ransack the 
police stations for rifles. Obey without hesitation the commands 
of your leaders.' 33 

At Canton, another 90 volunteers joined the Korea. British 
intelligence received information of the Ghadrites' plans, and, 
as soon as the Korea docked at Calcutta, the ring leaders 
including Jwala Singh were arrested. Those who were able to 
evade police surveillance returned peacefully to their villages. 

Ghadrites continued to come in batches from Canada, the 
United States, Hong Kong, Shanghai, China, Straits Settle- 
ments, Borneo, Japan, and the Philippines. On their way to India, 
they approached Indian troops posted abroad: at Hong Kong, 
contact was made with the 26th Punjabis; at Singapore, with the 
Malaya State Guides and the 5th Light Infantry; at Penang, with 
a unit of Sikh sepoys. 

Amongst the fleet of Japanese ships which brought the 
Ghadrites to India, the more important were the Tosa Maru, 
which arrived in Calcutta late in October, and the Mishima Mara, 
which docked in Colombo. The Tosa Mam was searched by the 
police, four of the leaders were arrested, and 179 passengers 
sent to the Punjab under police escort. 

The Indian police did not forestall the possibility of the 
revolutionaries coming from southern ports; many were thus 
able to reach the Punjab. It was estimated that, by the beginning 
of December 1914, nearly 1000 Ghadrites had come to India. 
The 'Ingress into India Ordinance' (promulgated on 5 Septem- 
ber) empowered local authorities to detain returning emigrants. 

33 The testimony of approver, Nawab Khan. Isemonger and Slattery, 
An Account of the Ghadr Conspiracy. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


The Defence of India Act, passed on 19 March 1915, authorized 
the governor general to frame rules k to empower any civil or 
military authority to prohibit the entry or residence in any area 
of a person suspected to be acting in a manner prejudicial to 
the public safety, or to direct the residence of such person in any 
specified area.' The act was brought into force in 16 out of 23 
districts of the Punjab to restrict the movements of suspicious 

The Ghadrites discovered to their chagrin that the atmosphere 
in India was far from conducive to revolution. 34 Leaders of the 
National Congress were sympathetic to the British cause. Ma- 
hatma Gandhi had volunteered for medical service, and even 
radicals such as B. G. Tilak expressed strong disapproval of 
those who wished to exploit the situation. The Punjab was send- 
ing the flower of its manhood to the front. The one significant 
Sikh political party, the Chief Khalsa Diwan, had reiterated its 
loyalty to the crown, and priests of several important Sikh shrines, 
denounced the Ghadrites as renegades or thugs. 35 

The Ghadrites made desperate efforts to secure a footing 
amongst the peasantry. They went to religious festivals at 
Amritsar, Nankana Sahib, and Tarn Taran and openly exhorted 
the people to rise. There was little response, and the revolution- 
aries had to fall back on their own resources. They held meeting 
and made plans to raid arsenals and government treasuries, 
but all they succeeded in doing by the end of 1914 was to com- 

34 When the emigrants began to arrive back in September 1914, they 
expected to find the Punjab, if not ready for a revolution, at least in a state 
of uneasiness and it is certain that in this respect, as in the matter of arms, 
they suffered a disappointment. The vast majority of the people were 
thoroughly loyal and contented, though of course, somewhat perturbed over 
the European war which had broken out in the previous month.' Isemonger 
and Slattery, An Account of the Ghadr Conspiracy. 

35 'The peasantry saw nothing justifiable in these acts [i.e. acts of 
violence committed by the Ghadrites].... To them the revolutionaries 
became murderers and plunderers of honest men, the more dangerous for 
their organisation and arms but to be resisted bv all means possible and 
captured.* Ibid. 


Political Movements 

mit a few dacoities and kill a police constable and a village 
official. 36 

Early in 1915, Ghadrites made contacts with terrorist orga- 
nizations in other parts of the country. In January, Rash Bihari 
Bose (leader of the group which tried to assassinate Lord 
Hardinge in 1912) arrived in the Punjab and took over the 
general direction of the revolution. Bose pinned his hopes on 
the defection of the men of the 23rd Cavalry at Lahore and 
26th Punjabis at Ferozepur, some of whom had agreed to mutiny; 
the response of the 28th Pioneers and the 12th Cavalry at Meerut 
was also encouraging. Bose sent out his agents to other canton- 
ments: Ambala, Agra, Kanpur, Allahabad, Benares, Fyzabad, 
Lucknow, Multari, Jhelum, Kohat, Rawalpindi, Mardan, and 
Peshawar. On receiving favourable reports, he fixed the night of 
21 February 1915, for a general rising of the Indian troops. 
Factories to manufacture bombs were set up at Amritsar, 
Jhabewal (near Ludhiana), and Lohatbadi, The revolutionaries 
were supplied with instruments to cut telegraph wires and derail 
railway trains. Tricolour national flags were made, and more 
copies of the Ilan-i-Jang (declaration of war) were cyclostyled for 

These carefully laid plans were foiled by the police, who 
succeeded in extracting information from one of the captured 
revolutionaries. Bose advanced the date of the rising from the 
21st to the 19th of February. Information of the change was also 

36 The following revolutionary crimes were listed in the Rowlatt Com- 
mittee Report, Sedition Committee Report, pp. 104-6. 

1. 16 October 1914. Attack on Chauki-Man railway station on the 
Ferozepur-Ludhiana line. 

2. 27 November 1914. Attempt to loot the Moga sub-divisional treasury 
in Ferozepur district resulting in the death of a police sub-inspector 
and village zaildar. (Two revolutionaries were killed and seven 

3. 17 December 1914. Robbing of a moneylender's house in village Pipli 
(Ambala district). 

4. 24 and 25 December 1914. Dacoities in villages Pharala and 
Karnama (Jullundur district). 

5. 24 and 25 December 1914. Robberies in Ferozepur District. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


conveyed to the police by a spy who had wormed his way into 
Bose's inner council. Disaffected regiments were disarmed; 
suspects were court-martialled and executed. The revolutionar- 
ies waited in vain for the troops to come out; then they too 
dispersed — only to walk into the net the police had spread for 
them. Rash Bihari Bose left the Punjab in disgust. 

By the summer of 1915, the Ghadr uprising had been virtually 
smashed. A few desperate characters who remained at large 
turned their wrath on informers, crown witnesses, and men who 
were actively cooperating with the police to hunt down the 
revolutionaries. By the autumn even these had been appre- 
hended or frightened into inactivity. 37 

Another plot which came to nothing was hatched in Mandi 
state. Six men were arrested, tried, and sentenced to varying 
terms of imprisonment. 38 

Rising at Singapore 

Ghadrites returning from the States and Canada made contact 
with the 5th Light Infantry (the ioyal Fifth 1 ), a Muslim unit 
posted at Singapore. 39 On the afternoon of 15 February 1915, 
men of the 5th Light Infantry overpowered the local reservists 
who were on guard duty at the military prison, released German 

37 'By August 1915, that is within nine months of the first outbreak, we 
had crushed the Ghadr rebellion. Nearly all the leaders and many of their 
most active adherents were in our hands awaiting trial or were brought to 
justice later, internal order was restored and, above all, the Sikh commu- 
nity had again proved its staunch loyalty.' Sir Michael O'Dwyer, India as 
I Knew It, p. 206. The last sentence refers to the committees of loyal Sikhs 
who helped the government against the revolutionaries. 

38 Mandi conspiracy case. See index of Isemonger and Slattery, An 
Account of the Ghadr Conspiracy. 

39 There is no documentary evidence of a connection between the 
Ghadr party and the Singapore rising, but there is little doubt that the 
Ghadrites, particularly one Jagat Singh, had been working among the 
troops. The man who influenced the Muslims of the 5th Light Infantry was 
a well-to-do businessman, Kassim Mansoor, who was later court-martialled 
and shot. Unpublished thesis by R. W. Mosbergen, The Sepoy Rebellion'. 


Political Movements 

sailors from the coal tug attached to the Emden, and took 
possession of the fort. The mutineers, estimated to be over 700 
men, then marched towards the town, hoping to rouse the 
populace. On their way, a party clashed with the Sikhs of the 
Malaya State Guides and Sikh sentries guarding the local gaol. 
This gave the rising a communal colour — Sikh versus Muslim. 
The mutiny was quelled by the joint efforts of the local militia, 
the police, and the arrival of the British sloop Cadmus. In the 48 
hours of fighting 44 were killed, of whom eight were senior 
British officials. There is no record of the number of the 
mutineers' casualties, but later 126 men were tried by summary 
court-martial: 37 men were sentenced to death, 41 to transpor- 
tation for life, and others to varying terms of imprisonment. The 
condemned men were publicly executed at Singapore. 40 

German Participation in the Ghadr 

Indian revolutionaries had active propaganda centres in Lon- 
don, Paris, and Berlin for at least a decade before the formation 
of the Ghadr party. As tension in Europe grew and it became 
obvious that war would be between Germany on one side and 
Great Britain and France on the other, Indian revolutionaries 
shifted their activities from London and Paris to Berlin. In the 
spring of 1914, Hardayal arrived in Germany and apprised his 
countrymen of the Ghadr organization, which had by then nearly 
10,000 active members. The 'Berlin-India' Committee ap- 
proached the German government and succeeded in persuading 
the foreign minister, Zimmerman, to send instructions to his 
ambassador in the United States to provide arms to the Ghadrites 
and place funds at their disposal. German consuls general in 
San Francisco, Shanghai, and Bangkok were also instructed to 
help the revolutionaries. 

German participation created factions in the Ghadr party. 
The rank and file constituted by the Sikh workers and peasants 
was without a spokesman of its own. Ram Chandra, who had little 
rapport with the Sikhs, had acquired overall control of the party. 

40 Ibid. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


The nominee of the 'Berlin-India Committee,' Haramba Lai 
Gupta, had German money in his pocket. Misunderstandings 
arose between the rival Indian groups and between the Indians 
and the Germans. 

The first attempt to smuggle arms from the United States into 
India came to nought. Five thousand revolvers were put on board 
a chartered ship, the Henry S. The ship and the crew were 
captured by the British navy. After the failure of the Henry S, 
Haramba Lai Gupta went to Japan to try and buy arms. British 
intelligence alerted the Japanese government, and Gupta had 
to spend several months in hiding; he returned to the United 
States without achieving anything. 

While Gupta was in Japan, another attempt was made to send 
arms to India. In March 1915, the Annie Larsen, loaded with war 
material, put out to sea. A few days later, a tanker, the Maverick, 
with five Ghadrites on board dressed as waiters left America. 
The ships were due to meet at sea, where the Maverick was to 
take over the arms and ammunition submerged in oil tanks and 
deliver them to the revolutionaries at some remote spot in the 
Sunderbans in east Bengal. The rendezvous never took place. 
The Maverick was searched by British and American warships, 
and the revolutionaries had to burn Ghadr literature to avoid 
detection. The tanker was interned by the Dutch navy and, after 
being released by the Dutch, captured by the British. The Annie 
Larsen was captured by the United States naw and impounded 
for carrying contraband. 

The Germans had planned to send five other ships with arms 
to India, but the fate of the Henry S, the Annie Larsen, the 
Maverick, and the quarrels between Indians dampened their 
enthusiasm for the Ghadr organization. Their worst experience 
was however yet to come. In February 1916 the 'Berlin-India' 
Committee, with the approval of the German foreign office, sent 
out a Bengali, Dr Chandra Kant Chakravarty, to take over the 
conduct of the Ghadr movement and furnished him with large 
sums of money. 

Chakravarty appropriated the money for his own use, and fed 
the Germans with imaginary reports of the work he was doing. 


Political Movements 

When the Germans discovered the truth, they washed their 
hands of the Ghadr party and became insulting in their behaviour 
towards Indians. Ghadrite plans to celebrate 1917, which was 
the diamond jubilee year of the 1857 Mutiny, as the year of 
victory were frustrated. 

The bickerings between Ghadrites increased. Chakravarty 
made away with most of the money given by the Germans. Ram 
Chandra and his friends had control of the donations made by 
the immigrants, the party journal, and the headquarters. The 
rank and file, who had staked everything including their lives, 
were left with nothing. The have-not group was entirely Sikh; the 
other almost entirely Hindu. Thus religious differences further 
accentuated the rift. 

On 6 April 1917, the United States entered the war. At the 
insistence of the British government, the United States police 
arrested 17 Indian revolutionaries along with 18 Germans of the 
consulate service and charged them with violating the neutrality 
of the United States government. 41 All the accused save one were 
found guilty and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment 
and fines. The trial ended on a dramatic note. On the last day 
one of the accused whipped out a revolver and shot Ram 
Chandra. The assailant was in turn shot by the marshal of the 
court and killed instantaneously. 42 

41 U.S.A. Vs. Franz Bopp and others before Judge W. C. Van Fleet was one 
of the longest and most expensive trials m the history of the United States. 
It lasted five months: witnesses were summoned from all parts of the world. 
The estimated cost was about 3 million dollars. San Francisco Chronicle, 22 
April 1918. 

42 This murder continued to be a cause of friction between Ghadrite 
factions for many years. The San Francisco Chronicle (24.4.1918) gave the 
following version of the crime: 'The motive for Singh's deed is clear. 
According to the Hindus of Bhagrvan Singh faction, Ram Singh (the killer 
of Ram Chandra) formerly owned hundreds of acres of land in Canada and 
was accounted a rich man. He had given thousands of dollars to the Hindoo 
cause — thousands of dollars which were turned over to Ram Chandra. In 
private conversations, the Bhagwan Singh faction freely called Ram Chandra 
a grafter and has pointed to the many thousands of dollars given to the 
cause by Ram Singh. Most of this money, according to the Hindoos, was 

Xenophobic Marxism 


The British Defence of India Act of 1915 empowered provin- 
cial governments to set up tribunals which could dispense with 
the usual committal proceedings and whose verdict was final. 
Special tribunals consisting of three judges (of whom two were 
invariably English) were set up to try the Ghadrites. In a series 
of trials held at Lahore, Mandi, Benares, and as far away as 
Mandalay and Singapore, several hundreds of revolutionaries 
were tried and convicted. Of those tried in the Punjab, 46 were 
hanged and 194 sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. 43 
Besides these, many soldiers were court-martialled and shot. 

The Ghadr rebellion failed for a variety of reasons: lack of 
arms; lack of experience; bad leadership; the inability of the 
revolutionaries to keep secrets; 44 tension between the Germans 
and the Ghadrites; the efficiency of the British intelligence 
service, which planted spies in the highest councils of the 
revolutionaries; the stern measures taken by the Government of 
India; the brutal methods adopted by the Punjab police, which 
compelled many of the leaders to inform against their col- 
leagues. Above all, it failed because the Punjabi masses were 
not ready for it. Rich landowners assured the governor of their 
loyalty and set up committees in the districts to watch the 
movements of returning emigrants and to bring them back to 
the path of obedience and loyalty. Even the peasants were 
more concerned with the war than with the revolution. The story 

"retained" by Ram Chandra for his personal use.' This version is also 
supported by the Un-American Activities, Seventh Report. Lajpat Raj wrote: 
'Most of the Bengali revolutionaries I found absolutely unprincipled both 
in the conduct of their campaign and in the obtaining and spending of 

funds Amongst the Punjabis the worst cases were of Ram Chandra and 

Harish Chandra. The Sikhs on the whole proved to be purer, more unselfish 
and disciplined. The worst possible case among them was Bhagwan Singh 
Gyani's but even he was infinitely superior to Ram Chandra or Chakravarty 
or Gupta.' Autobiographical Writings, p. 218. Ram Chandra's name is, 
however, officially listed by the Indian National Congress as one of the 
heroes of the revolution. 

43 See Appendix to Isemonger and Slattery, An Account of the Ghadr 

44 'Isemonger and Slattery, An Account of the Ghadr Conspiracy, 


Political Movements 

of the heroic stand made by a Sikh battalion against an over- 
whelming Turkish force at Gallipoli fired the Sikh youth more 
than the stones of racial discrimination in Canada and the 
United States. 45 

The Ghadr party aimed to drive out the English from India; 
but no Englishman lost his life at the hands of the Ghadrites, nor 
at the time did it pose a very serious threat to the British Raj. 
Nevertheless, the movement is of considerable importance to 
the historian. It was the first secular movement which aimed to 
liberate India by the use of arms. Both in Maharashtra and 
Bengal, political terrorism was closely connected with the re- 
vival of Hinduism: in Maharashtra, with the cult of Sivaji; in 
Bengal with that of the goddess Kali. And both the Maharashtrians 
and Bengalis rigorously excluded Muslims from their ranks. 
Though the vast majority of the Ghadr party was Sikh (and 
therefore its literature was printed in Gurmukhi and its meetings 
held in gurdwaras), it had nothing whatsoever to do with the 
revival of Sikhism. The Ghadr party attracted Hindus and 
Muslims to its fold and later influenced other revolutionary 
groups in the country to shed their religious bias. 

The eruption of the Ghadr movement brought about a radical 
change in the political outlook of the Sikh community. It marked 
the beginning of the end of three quarters of a century of 
unquestioned loyalty to the British Raj. Though the rebellion was 
suppressed and submerged in the enthusiasm generated by the 
war, it continued to ferment and erupted a few years later during 
the Akali agitation: Akali terrorists known as the Babbars were 
largely recruited from the ranks of the Ghadr party. 

45 'After that [the stand made by a battalion of the 14th Sikhs on 4 June 
1915] the rush to the colours in the Sikh districts was extraordinary.' wrote 
Sir Michael O'Dwyer. 'In the four years of war the Sikhs who form a total 
population of two and a half millions — less than 1 per cent of British India — 
furnished no less than ninety thousand combatant recruits [the number was 
larger; Leigh, p. 44] or one-eighth of India's total. In fact, so enthusiastic 
was their response, so gallant were their deeds, and so generous the 
rewards and appreciation, that many of them have got the idea in their 
heads that "we won the war.'" O'Dwyer, India as I Kneio It, p. 207. 

Xenophobic Marxism 


The conversion of the Ghadr party from xenophobic nation- 
alism to communism came after the war. In 1924 Bolshevik 
agents working through an American communist, Agnes Smedley, 
made contacts with the Ghadr organization in the United States 
and Canada. In 1925 a batch of Ghadrites was sent to Russia, 
where they received instruction at the Lenin Institute and the 
Eastern University. Two years later this batch was sent to India 
via Afghanistan. By then many other Ghadrites in India (now 
known as Bdbds — venerables) were out of gaol and had renewed 
association with their erstwhile colleagues. They received funds 
from British Columbia and California for the relief of political 
sufferers. These funds were disbursed by the Des Bhagat Parivdr 
Sahdyak Sabhd (committee for the relief of families of patriots). 
Muscovite Ghadrites joined hands with the Bdbds, a paper known 
as Kirti (worker) was started, and in 1926 the party came to be 
known as the Kirti Kisdn (workers and peasants) party; its 
publications bore the title: 'Official organ of the Punjab branch 
of the Communist Party, affiliated to the Third International/ 46 
For some years the Kirtis' chief protagonist was Teja Singh 
Swatantra. 47 The Kirtis and the 'official' Communist party of the 
Punjab led by Sohan Singh Josh 48 maintained a united front. With 

46 Dr J. S. Bains in the Spokesman, 9 February 1955; also Tilak Raj 
Chaddha in Thought, 14 June 1952. 

47 Teja Singh Swatantra (b.1901 ) , ajat Sikh of village Aluna (Gurdaspur 
district), was active in the Akali and Congress movements. He spent five 
years in a military college in Turkey, and then made contacts with 
Ghadrites in California in 1929. He was externed by the US government 
in 1931. Swatantra spent two years in Soviet Russia before returning to 
India. He was arrested in 1936 and spent the next 6 years in gaol. While 
in gaol he was returned unopposed to the Punjab Assembly in 1937. On his 
release in 1942, Swatantra was elected president of the provincial Kisan 
Sabha and joint secretary of the provincial executive of the Communist 
party of India. He was expelled from the official party and set up his lal 
(red) Communist group in 1947. He was said to be involved in cases of 
dacoity and murder and absconded for many years. He reappeared in the 
winter of 1962 but no charges were ever brought against him. 

48 Sohan Singh Josh (b.1898), ajat Sikh of village Chetanpur (Amritsar 
district), worked in a textile mill and the censors' office before joining the 


Political Movements 

funds liberally supplied by Moscow and Canadian-American 
Ghadrites, they were able to spread their influence amongst the 
Sikh peasantry of central Punjab. 

Communist infiltration split the Ghadr party. The majority of 
Ghadrites in the United States and Canada either turned anti- 
communist or were submerged by the wave of anti-communism 
which spread across the western world. Their quarrels often led 
to violence, and at one time over two dozen murders of 'Hindus' 
by 'Hindus' were recorded as untraced in the state of Califor- 
nia. 49 The bickerings continued through the years till the independ- 
ence of India. In 1948 the assets of the party were turned over 
to the Indian ambassador in the United States, thus bringing to 
an end its 30 year-old turbulent career. 

Akali movement. He was secretary of the Akali Dal in 1922 and was gaoled 
in the Akali conspiracy case from 1925-6. On his release, he helped to edit 
the Kirti and in 1928 joined the Communist party of India. He was arrested 
in the Meerut conspiracy case and spent four years (1929-33) in gaol. He 
was secretary of the Punjab Committee of the Communist party from 1934- 
50 and was member of the Central Committee of the party from 1943-53. 
Josfi is the most important communist leader of the Punjab. 
49 Listed in the Un-American Activities Report. 

13. Gurdwara Reform: 
Rise of the Akali Immortals 

The awakening brought about by the Singh Sabha movement 
had made the Sikhs conscious of their rights. While the 
educated began to press for their due in services and adminis- 
trative bodies (municipalities, district boards, provincial and 
central legislatures), the masses were more anxious to gain 
control of their gurdwaras. There were no rules for the adminis- 
tration of Sikh shrines and over many of them priests (mahants) 
who were Hindus as often as Sikhs had asserted proprietary 
rights. The incomes of some of the gurdwaras, such as the 
Golden Temple in Amritsar and the birthplace of Guru Nanak at 
Nankana, ran into several lacs per year. For many years, Sikh 
associations carried on civil litigation against the mahants. Then 
the impatience generated by the Ghadr and the nationalist 
movement spurred the Sikh masses into jettisoning methods of 
petition and redress from courts of law followed by the Singh 
Sabhaites and to adopt instead the non-cooperation ( na milvertan) 
and passive resistance of the newly formed party, the AkaBs 
(Immortals). This brought them into conflict with the Punjabi 
Hindus, many of whom unwittingly sided with the mahants as well 
as the administration, which felt impelled to support the priests 
who were in possession of the temples. In order to fully grasp the 
importance of this movement, one should know something of the 
evolution of the gurdwara and its importance in Sikh social life. 


Political Movements 

Gurdwara: Its Income and Management 

The first Sikh temple was probably established by Nanak at 
Kartarpur after his return from his travels. It was then a simple 
dharamsal (place of worship), where his disciples gathered to 
listen to his discourses and to sing hymns. The dharamsal soon 
became a community centre where, apart from worship and 
religious ceremonies connected with births, baptisms, betroth- 
als, marriages, and obsequies, there was a free kitchen, the guru- 
ka-larigar, and a school where children learnt the alphabet and 
their daily prayers. It also became the pahcayatghar, where the 
elders met to settle disputes and to deliberate on matters 
concerning the community. These functions were performed in 
the smallest village gurdwara as well as in the biggest. The 
village temple subsisted on the contributions made by the local 
peasants; the bigger shrines received large sums in offerings, 
particularly during religious festivals when their larigars would 
be called upon to feed as many as 50,000 pilgrims in one day. 
To meet these obligations, sardars of the misls, and thereafter 
Maharajah Ranjit Singh, his family, and the Sikh princes, 
assigned large estates to their favourite shrines. Some like 
the Golden Temple, the temples at Nankana and Panja Sahib 
had sizeable jagirs attached to them. With the introduction of 
canal irrigation, the income derived from land of the gurdwaras 
assumed princely proportions. 

No rules had been made for the management of the gurdwaras 
nor were qualifications prescribed for their caretakers. In the 
days of Mughal persecution, the job of granthi (scripture reader) 
was a hazardous one, and many important shrines were en- 
trusted to members of the Udasi order, who did not fully 
subscribe to the Khalsa creed and, being usually clean-shaven, 
could disclaim their association with Sikhism when their lives 
were in danger. Even after Mughal rule, these shrines continued 
to be looked after by Udasis, and the post of grarithl-cum- 
manager passed from father to son. The less importrnt gurdwaras 
were looked after by men who wished to dedicate their life to 
prayer and the service of the community. 

Gurdwara Reform 


With the establishment of British rule, new settlement records 
had to be made. In many of these, the lands and properties 
attached to the gurdwaras were entered against the names of 
the mahants. 1 

Where the congregation was vigilant, the entry remained a 
nominal one; where the priests were able to have it their own way, 
they were recorded as owners and began to utilize and alienate 
the property as they wished. The Udasis, who were as much 
Hindu as thev were Sikh, and anxious to attract Hindu worship- 
pers, installed images of Hindu gods and goddesses in gurdwara 
premises. There were also some cases of misuse of the sacred 
precincts. 2 

Management of the Golden Temple had always been of 
special interest to the community. After the annexation, matters 
of importance were sometimes looked into by the deputy com- 
missioner of Amritsar; for the rest, the priests had everything 

1 l On the advent of the British rule, however, the very word of '"pos- 
session" acquired special significance and unfortunately very little, if any, 
distinction at all was made between possession as owners and possession 
as servants of the public for carrying out the religious and charitable 
services, connected* with the gurdwaras. The result was that the incumbents 
began to feel and exercise personal rights in the endowments which soon 
led, as it was bound to lead, to the deterioration of their characters. The 
Sikhs were too stunned — by the blow depriving them of their empire — to 
offer much resistance to this encroachment upon their rights.' Mehtab 
Singh riXJX 14 March 1921, p. 360. 

2 'In proportion as ihe properties and incomes of the gurdwaras 
increased by canal irrigation and offerings, etc., etc. the mahahts became 
more and more depraved. Bad characters flocked around them as celas 
to lead easy and immoral lives. Resorting of desperate characters to our 
gurdwaras and their association with the mahahts converted these sacred 
places of virtue and religion to brothels and dens of gamblers, drunkards, 
robbers and thieves. No man's honour and no woman's virtue was safe. 
Women of the highest families in the land were led astray from the path 
of duty and virtue and gave birth to illegitimate children. Maidens were 
abducted and outraged. Mahants kept mistresses and concubines and in 
doing so did not confine themselves to their own community. From 
prostitutes they had sons whom they provided with millions worth of 
properties out of gurdwara funds.' Ibid. 


Political Movements 

their own way. Soon after the suppression of the mutiny, leading 
Sikh sardars moved the government to reorganize the manage- 
ment of shrines. At a meeting held on 22 December 1859, over 
which the deputy commissioner presided, it was decided to set 
up a management committee of nine members. The committee, 
however, does not seem to have taken much interest, and the 
management remained as before in the hands of the head priest 
under the direct supervision of the deputy commissioner. 3 

Singh Sabha was the first to protest against the exclusion of 
Sikhs of untouchable castes and the performance of idolatrous 
ritual in the bigger shrines. The priests of Hazur Sahib in 
Nanded (Hyderabad state) retaliated by excommunicating 
members of the Singh Sabha and exhorted the priests of other 
temples to do the same. The behest could not be carried out as 
the Singh Sabha had become powerful in the Punjab; on the 
contrary, as a result of pressure applied by the Sabha, Hindu 
idols were removed from the precincts of the Golden Temple 
in 1905. A year later, when the manager died, the Singh Sabha 
pressed upon the deputy commissioner the need to consult 
representatives of the community in the appointment of a suc- 

Leaders of the Singh Sabha were loyalists who believed in 
doing no more than making representations to officials or 
instituting suits. The misuse of gurdwara property required more 
drastic action. Matters came to a head in 1912, when, in the 
course of the building of the new capital, the government 
acquired land attached to gurdwara Rikab Ganj in Delhi and 
demolished an old boundary wall. Radical elements seized the 
opportunity to challenge the maharit's right to alienate gurdwara 
property and condemned the demolition of the gurdwara wall as 

3 No specific qualifications were ever laid down regarding granthis or 
priests. The Nizam's government had, however, ruled that in Nanded (in 
the Nizam's dominion) only a celibate of good character who did not drink 
could be appointed head priest. In Narain Singh Vs Bhagat Singh (Civil Suit 
807 of 3 December 1886) the court had ruled that only a nadi (a celibate) 
above the age of 35 years and of unimpeachable character could be 
appointed as priest of the Golden Temple. Tribune, 20 June 1886. 

Gurdwara Reform 


sacrilegious. There was talk of launching a morca (battle front); 
but it had to be postponed because of the war. 

The matter was re-agitated in the autumn of 1918. Disappoint- 
ment over the Montagu-Chelmsford constitutional proposals 
(discussed hereafter), followed by large-scale terrorism prac- 
tised by the martial law administration, made the Sikh masses 
critical of the government. Men of nationalist views broke the 
monopoly of the Singh Sabha over Sikh affairs and set up in the 
winter of 1919 the Central Sikh League at Amritsar. At a 
subsequent meeting at Lahore, the League passed a resolution 
of non-cooperation with the British and decided to send volun- 
teers to take forcible possession of Rikab Canj land acquired 
by the government. It also demanded that the management of 
the Khalsa College, Amritsar, be taken out of official control and 
placed in the hands of a Sikh committee. 

The government tried to appease the Sikhs. The demolished 
wall of Rikab Ganj was rebuilt, and the acquired land was 
restored to a committee of representative Sikhs who had taken 
over the management of the shrine. Other minor grievances of 
the Sikhs were also redressed. Sikhs were, in one respect, 
exempted from the operation of the .Arms Act and were allowed 
to carry kirpans; Sikh prisoners in gaols were permitted to retain 
their religious emblems and, unlike other inmates who had to 
wear cloth caps, were allowed to keep their turbans. 

These concessions had little bearing on the question of the 
control of the shrines. On this matter, the authorities were slow 
to respond to the demands of the Sikhs and somewhat insensi- 
tive to the temper of the times. The official attitude was that a 
person in whose name a piece of land or property was registered 
was prima facie the owner and could be ousted only by means 
of a suit for possession in the civil court. It did not occur to them 
that the mahaht of a gurdwara was exactly in the same position 
as the vicar of a church in whom no proprietary rights were 
vested. Many Sikh committees had tried and discovered the 
futility of civil actions. Court fees had to be paid on the value of 
the property, and suits could be prolonged interminably by the 
ingenuity of lawyers. Frustration and anger began to mount. 


Political Movements 

Meanwhile, Sikhs had been planning a committee of manage- 
ment of their own. On 15 November 1920, a proclamation was 
made from the Akal Takht, Amritsar, to the effect that a 
committee of 175 to be known as the Shiromani Gurdwara 
Prabandhak Committee (Central Gurdwara Management Com- 
mittee — thereafter referred to by the initials SGPC) had been 
set up for the management of all Sikh shrines; Sunder Singh 
Majithia, Harbans Singh of Attari, and Bhai Jodh Singh, were 
elected president, vice-president, and secretary, respectively. 
The more radical elements organized a semi-military corps of 
volunteers known as the Akali Dal (army of immortals). The 
Akali Dal was to raise and train men for 4 action' in taking over 
the gurdwaras from recalcitrant mahants. A Gurmukhi paper, 
the Akali, was started. 4 

Under pressure of Sikh opinion, backed frequently by dem- 
onstrations of strength, the mahants began to yield control over 
gurdwara properties to elected committees and agreed to be- 
come paid granthis. However, at the gurdwara at Tarn Taran, 
there was violence resulting in the deaths of two Akalis and 
injuries to over a dozen; Tarn Taran was only the prelude. 

The Nankana Holocaust 

The birthplace of Guru Nanak was among the most richly 
endowed Sikh shrines. At the time, it was being managed by an 
Udasi maharit, Narain Das, who lived in the gurdwara with a 
mistress and was known to have invited prostitutes to dance in 

4 The editors, Mangal Singh and Hira Singh Dard, later became 
important figures in Sikh politics. Mangal Singh (b.1896), a Gill Jat of 
village Gill in Ludhiana district, served a five-year sentence for seditious 
writing in the Akali. He later joined the Indian National Congress and 
represented Sikh interests at the All Parties Conference and in the drafting 
of the Nehru Report. He was a member of the Central Assembly from 

Hira Singh Dard (d.1965) was imprisoned several times and later 
joined the Communist party. He edited the weekly Phulzvari and also made 
his mark as a poet. 

Gurdwara Reform 


the sacred premises. Local Sikhs threatened to eject him by 
force. ' The maharit asked the police for protection and hired 
nearly 400 thugs to safeguard and defend his interest. 

In the early morning hours of 20 February 1921, ajathd (band) 
of Akalis led by Lachman Singh Dharovalia entered the gurdwara. 
The gates of the shrine were then closed, and Narain Das's thugs 
attacked the jatha with swords, hatchets, and firearms. The 
dead and dying Akalis were then dragged to a pile of logs which 
had been collected earlier, and burnt. By the time the police and 
local Sikhs came on the scene, 130 men had been consumed by 
the flames. 6 

The news of the outrage spread like wildfire. Bands of Akalis 
from distant towns began to converge on Nankana. The commis- 
sioner of Lahore 7 hurried to the scene and with great alacrity 
handed over the keys of the shrine to a representative of the 

The atmosphere of the days following Jallianwala came again 
to pervade the Punjab. The districts of Lahore, Amritsar, and 
Sheikhupura were declared 'proclaimed areas" under the Sedi- 
tious Meetings Act; the more outspoken leaders were arrested. 

5 The situation at Nankana had attracted the attention of the authorities 
earlier. On 16 February 1921 (four days before the incident narrated in the 
text), the government had issued a press release announcing the appoint- 
ment of one Shaikh Asghar Ali to preside over a conference of the Akalis 
and Lieutenant Kartar Singh Bedi representing mahants, sants (holy men) 
and pujans (priests). 

A widely publicised letter written by the commissioner of Lahore to 
Kartar Singh Bedi which assured the mahants of their legal rights was 
responsible for the hardening of the mahants' attitude. PLCD, 5 March 
1921, p. 21. 

6 PLCD, 1921, p. 304. For the murder of the 130 Akalis, three men were 
sentenced to death and two, including Narain Das, to transportation for 
life (King vs Narain Das and others. Tribune, 3 March 1922). 

7 The commissioner, Mr King, made a personal statement on the 
incident to the Legislative Council on 15 March 1921. He said: 'Unfor- 
tunately the precipitate action of one party threw out our calculations. 
Lachman Singh's party went to Nankana quite unexpectedly, and there was 
no one in authority to prevent the dreadful happenings that occurred.' 
PLCD, 15 March 1921, pp. 380-3. 


Political Movements 

Resolutions to non-cooperate with the government were passed 
by several provincial organizations. 8 

The summer of 1921 was one of acute political unrest all over 
India: the Moplahs rose in Malabar; there were hartals in the 
wake of the Prince of Wales' visit; foreign liquor shops were 
picketed and bonfires made of British goods. These demonstra- 
tions were met by baton charges and arrests. By an unhappy 
coincidence, the failure of the winter monsoon had its delayed 
effect in the summer; in several districts of the Punjab, famine 
conditions came to prevail. 

Repression and economic distress quickened the pace of 
Sikh agitation. 9 Those who, like members of the Chief Khalsa 
Diwan, collaborated with the government came to be described 
contemptuously as jhoB cuks (toadies) . Radical leadership which 
came to the fore reflected different shades of political opinion 
and religious enthusiasm. Baba Kharak Singh, 10 Mehtab Singh, 11 
and Teja Singh Samundari were largely motivated by religious 
considerations. Master Tara Singh 12 and three brothers — Amar 

8 Mahatma Gandhi visited Nankana. He said, 'Everything points to a 
second edition of Dyerism, more barbarous and more fiendish than the 
barbarism at Jallianwala Bagh.' The Times, 11 March 1921. 

9 'Moreover, it is believed that the awakening of national consciousness 
is to a certain extent responsible for the spirit of restlessness and 
dissatisfaction with the management of shrines and gurdwaras.' Statement 
by Mian Fazl-i-Husain. PLCD, 14 March 1921, p. 350. 

10 Kharak Singh (1867-1963) Ahluwalia was the son of an army 
contractor of Sialkot. He was for some years, the most powerful leader of 
the Sikhs — their beta] badsah (the uncrowned king) . Though called a Baba, 
he has no connection whatsoever with the Communists. 

11 Mehtab Singh (1879-1938), an Arora of Shah pur district, qualified 
as a barristei and had a lucrative practice. 

12 Tara Singh (b. 24 June 1885) of village Harial (district Rawalpindi), 
was the son of a Hindu of the Malhotra caste. He was converted to Sikhism 
while at school, educated at Rawalpindi and then at the Khalsa College, 
Amritsar. After taking his degree in 1907, he took a diploma in teaching 
and became a teacher in the Khalsa High School, Lyallpur: the title 
'master' has attached to his name ever since. He joined the Akali 
movement at its inception and became the dominant figure in Sikh affairs 
in the 1930s. Master Tara Singh has published many works on religion, 

Gurdwara Reform 


Singh, Sarmukh Singh, and Jaswant Singh of Jhabal — who were 
the representatives of majority opinion, were equally religious 
and nationalistic. There were also fanatics believing in the 
militant tradition of the Nihangs who wanted to meet force with 
force. This group organised itself into bands of terrorists known 
as Babbar Akalis (immortal lions). 

The new leaders exploited the inflamed sentiments of the 
people to the full. The Sikhs were asked to wear black turbans 
in honour of the martyrs of Nankana. A sahidi (martyrs) fiind was 
opened to provide for the families of the deceased, to set up a 
school and a hospital at Nankana and a missionary 7 college at 
Amritsar as memorials to the victims. Collections for the pur- 
pose were made all over the province. The effects of this 
propaganda were visible at the birthday celebrations of Guru 
Nanak that autumn. Over 50,000 Sikhs congregated at Nankana, 
of whom 20,000 professed to be Akalis, and 12-15,000 belonged 
to jathas. 13 

The Keys Affair 

Into this highly inflammable atmosphere the deputy commis- 
sioner of Amritsar threw a lighted match. Being suspicious of 
the bona fides of Baba Kharak Singh, the new president of 
the SGPC, he took the keys of the treasury 7 of the Golden Temple 
and planned to hand them over to his own nominee. He clamped 
down the Seditious Meetings Act and arrested 193 of the leading 
Akalis. The leaders were sentenced to varying terms of impris- 
onment and fines. 

politics, and fiction of which the better known are Baba Tega Singh and Prem 
Lagan. Two papers, Prabhat (dawn) in Urdu and Jathedar in Gurmukhi 
publicize his views. 

13 A police report stated that 'A strong national spirit and contempt for 
authority pervaded the assembly/ The Akali Dal (CII) Report, pp. 6-7). 

The fair was made memorable by the dramatically stage-managed 
appearance of Gurdit Singh of Komagata Mam fame, who surrendered 
himself to the police. Master Mota Singh, who had been declared an 
absconder some months earlier, arrived with an escort of armed Akalis, 
delivered a violent speech to the assemblage and then disappeared. 


Political Movements 

The seizure of the shrine keys aroused considerable excite- 
ment in India. The government realized that the deputy commis- 
sioner of Amritsar had disturbed a hornet's nest, and, a few days 
after the passing of the sentences, the governor of the Punjab 
announced his decision to release the prisoners and hand over 
the keys to Kharak Singh's committee. Mahatma Gandhi de- 
scribed it as the 'first decisive battle won'. 

The lieutenant governor, Sir Edward Maclagan, tried to push 
through legislation to transfer gurdwaras to their rightful owners, 
the Sikh congregation. In March 1921, the education minister, 
Mian Fazl-i-Husain, introduced a bill to set up a Board of 
Commissioners which would take over the management of Sikh 
shrines. The bill was opposed by the Sikh legislators, who 
objected to having non-Sikhs on a board whose sole function was 
to manage Sikh places of worship. Nor could the members agree 
on what constituted a gurdwara; a large number of Udasis 
declared their shrines to be Hindu temples and so gained the 
backing of Hindu and anti-Akali Sikh members. 11 Mian Fazl-i- 
Husain had the bill passed into law as the Sikh Gurdwaras and 
Shrines Act VI of 1922. The Sikhs ignored the legislation. 

The SGPC passed a resolution (21 May 1921) not to cooper- 
ate with the government and exhorted Sikhs to boycott British 
goods. The moderates quit the SGPC. About the same time 
Mehtab Singh resigned from his post as deputy president 
(speaker) of the Punjab Council and thus deprived the legisla- 
ture and the government of the benefit of the Akali point of view. 
District officers who had been piqued by the lieutenant governor's 
decision in the keys affair began to conduct themselves in a 

14 Mehtab Singh retaliated by a vitriolic attack on the mahaiits: 'Hie 
maharits are a class of parasites. They have become infected with the 
poison, which in accordance with a saying of our guru, is contained in the 
income derived from the alms of the worshippers, and this poison has 
made devil of a man. ... If the government is honestly prepared to help us 
in this matter we have no objection to receiving this aid, but we are not 
prepared to admit that sadhus belonging to the Nirmala or Udasi sects 
possess the right of interfering in our religious affairs and of wounding our 
religious susceptibilities/ PLCD, 5 April 1921, pp. 544-5. 

Gurdwara Reform 


harsh and uncompromising manner with the Akalis. Over 1200 
arrests were made in 13 districts of the province. 15 Among the 
most headstrong was the deputy commissioner of Amritsar who 
precipitated a showdown with the Akalis. 

Guru ka Bagh 

Guru ka B ag h (the garden of the Guru), a small shrine thirteen 
miles from Amritsar, had been erected to commemorate the 
visit of Gum Arjun. Adjacent to the shrine was a plot of land on 
which acacia trees were planted to provide firewood for the 
gurdwara kitchen. The Udasi maharit accepted baptism and 
submitted himself to the authority of an elected committee. 
Then without any apparent cause, in the first week of August 
1921, he lodged a complaint that Akalis were cutting timber 
from the gurdwara land. The police arrested the Akalis and 
charged them with criminal trespass. Akali leaders held a 
meeting at the Guru ka Bagh in contravention of the order under 
the Seditious Meetings Act. The police dispersed the meeting 
and arrested the leaders, including Mehtab Singh and Master 
Tara Singh. The SGPC took up the challenge. 

Jathas of 100 Akalis each were formed. They first took an oath 
at the Akal Takht to remain non-violent, then proceeded towards 
Guru ka Bagh. The police stopped them at various points far 
removed from the land in dispute, ordered them to disperse, 
and, on their refusal to do so, beat them mercilessly with their 
lathis, jackboots, and fists. For nineteen days the encounters 
between the police and the passive resist ers continued and were 
observed by many Indian leaders. The Indian National Congress 
appointed a committee of enquiry, which lauded the Akalis and 
censured the police for the atrocities committed by it. 16 When 

15 Sir John Maynard put the figure at 1286, excluding persons who were 
arrested and subsequently released. PLCJ) 9 August 1922, p. 1698. 

16 The committee stated: 'We are all clearly and emphatically of 
opinion, that the force used was excessive on all occasions and on some 
was cruelly excessive. Divesting ourselves of all political bias, we consider 
that the excesses committed reflect the greatest discredit on the Punjab 


Political Movements 

C. F. Andrews visited the scene, he was deeply moved by the 
noble 'Christ-like' behaviour of the Akalis. He apprised the 
lieutenant governor of the brutality of the police and persuaded 
him to see things for himself. Sir Edward Maclagan arrived at 
Guru ka Bagh (13 September) and ordered the beatings to stop. 
Four days later the police retired from the scene. By then 5605 
Akalis had been arrested, and 936 17 were hospitalized. The 
Akalis took possession of Guru ka Bagh along with the disputed 
land. 18 It was the second decisive battle won. 19 

Guru ka Bagh excited religious fervour to a degree which had 
not been seen among the Sikhs since the annexation of their 
kingdom. The trial of the leaders was followed with close 
interest, and, when the convicted leaders were being removed 
to gaols to serve their sentences, mammoth crowds greeted 
them on the route. 20 

Babbar Akali Terrorists 

Not all Sikhs accepted the cult of non-violence which the SGPC 
had adopted. The behaviour of the police at Guru ka Bagh 

Government and are a disgrace to any civilised government.' The commit- 
tee included an American missionary, Rev. S. E. Stokes. It examined over 
100 witnesses and submitted its report on 3 January 1924. Congress Enquiry 
Committee Report on the Guru-ka-Bagh. 

17 The official figure given by H. D. Craik in the Punjab Legislative 
Council was 1650 against whom force was used. PLCD 1 November 1922, 
p. 468. 

18 The Guru ka Bagh land was purchased by the Hindu philanthropist, 
Sir Ganga Ram, and given to the gurdwara. This was obviously a govern- 
ment device to save face. 

19 The Indian National Congress, meeting at its annual session at Gaya 
in December-January, passed a resolution recording 'with pride and 
admiration its appreciation of the unexampled brav ery of the Akali martyrs 
and the great and noble example of non-violence set by them for the benefit 
of the whole nation.' 

20 On 30 October 1921, thousands of men and women laid themselves 
on the rail track at Panja Sahib in an attempt to stop a train to give 
refreshments to the prisoners being escorted to Naushera gaol. Two men 
were crushed to death before the engine driver could pull up. 

Gurdwara Reform 


induced some to organize an underground terrorist movement.* 1 
These terrorists were largely drawn from the Ghadr party and 
soldiers on leave. Two of the most active members were retired 
Havildar Major Rishen Singh Bidang and Master Mota Singh. 
To get arms, the Babbars sent agents to the North West Frontier 
Province and to the Indian states. They also tried to persuade 
soldiers to steal them from army arsenals. They acquired a 
couple of duplicators and began to issue a bulletin entitled the 
Babbar Akdti Dodba. 

The Babbars were no more successful than the Ghadrites in 
securing arms; and their organization, like the Ghadr party, was 
rendered ineffective by the members' inability to remain secre- 
tive and by allowing personal spite to mingle with revolutionary 
zeal. The Punjab CID did not have much difficulty in infiltrating 
the Babbars' inner circles. 

Babbar violence was of short but intense duration. For a few 
months they terrorized the Jullundur Doab and Hoshiarpur. 
Encounters with the police redounded to the credit of the 
Babbars, most of whom displayed a contemptuous disregard for 
their lives. 22 But by the summer of 1923 the wave of violence was 
spent, and most of the Babbars had been apprehended. Of the 
62 Babbar Akalis put up for trial, 22 turned witnesses for the 
Crown. The trial was conducted in camera in Lahore gaol and 

21 A nebulous terrorist group had been formed earlier. At the Sikh 
Educational Conference, which met at Hoshiarpur in March 1921, a band 
of terrorists resolved to assassinate people they believed responsible for 
the Nankana outrage. Seven men were convicted for conspiracy to murder 
and five declared absconders. 

22 Two instances are worthy of record. On 31 August 1<l 33, four Babbars 
led by Karam Singh, acting editor of the Babbar Akdti Dodba, were sur- 
rounded in village Babeli by a large force of police and armed constabulary. 
The Babbars refused to surrender and when the hut in which they were 
hiding was set on fire, they emerged with drawn kirpans (they had no 
firearms) and fell under a hail of rifle-shot while charging the police. 

Even more dramatic was the conduct of Dhanna Singh of Behbalpur on 
25 October 1923. He was betrayed by one of his comrades and captured 
at night while asleep. With his manacled hands he was able to explode a 
hand-grenade under his armpit. The blast killed Dhanna Singh, nine 
policemen, and a buffalo. 


Political Movements 

was presided over by an English judge. Six men, including 
Kishen Singh Bidang, were condemned to death, and, apart from 
34 who were acquitted, the rest were sentenced to varying terms 
of imprisonment. The condemned men declined to appeal or 
petition for mercy and were hanged. 2 * 

The attitudes of both the government and the Akalis hard- 
ened. The Akalis became more obstreperous and forcibly occu- 
pied more gurdwaras: one notable takeover was the historic 
shrine at Muktsar (17 February 1923). The police became 
harsher in their treatment of Akali prisoners. There were com- 
plaints of dragging men by their long hair, 24 beating them, 
keeping them hungry, and forcing them to sleep out in the open 
on cold winter nights. 25 

A resolution urging the release of Akali prisoners was moved 
in the Legislative Council and passed with the strong support of 
non-officials, both Hindu and Muslim. The official spokesman 
admitted that, in the Hindu-Muslim communal riots in March 
1923, the Akalis 'rendered useful assistance to the authorities 
in maintaining order pending the arrival of military reinforce- 
ments.' In recognition of these services the lieutenant governor 
ordered the release of over 1000 Akalis arrested in August and 
September 1922 at Guru ka Bagh. 26 

23 The Babbar Ghadrite combination was responsible for some notable 
crimes in later years. S. G. M. Beatty, who earned notoriety at Guru ka 
Bagh, was murdered in a village of Patiala (a Babbar was hanged for the 
murder). Bela Singh of Jaina, who had fled Vancouver after murdering and 
betraying his co-religionists, was hacked to death in his village in 1933. 

24 PLC3J, 9 November 1922, pp. 57-9. 

25 Conditions in Attock fort gaol were investigated by Raja Narendra 
Nath and Sewak Ram, both members of the Punjab Council. Over 80 Akali 
prisoners were found to be in the hospital suffering from bronchitis, 
asthma, pneumonia, etc. PLCD, 6 March 1923, p. 989. 

To protest against the treatment of his fellow Akalis and the ban on 
Gandhi caps for non-Sikh prisoners, Baba Kharak Singh serving his 
sentence of four years' rigorous imprisonment refused to wear anything 
more than his kach even on the coldest days. He was kept in solitary 
confinement for over six months. 

26 This was the second attempt to secure the release of Akalis. The 
first resolution moved in November 1922 was defeated by supporters of 

Gurdwara Reform 


It was with a sense of triumph that the Akalis arranged the 
cleansing of the tank (kar seva) of the Golden Temple, The 
operation, which is performed after every two or three decades 
to remove the accumulation of sediment left by millions of 
pilgrims who bathe in the holy waters, took one month to 
complete, during which hundreds of thousands of Sikhs from all 
over India and abroad came to Amritsar. The Akalis made full 
use of this opportunity to disseminate propaganda and work up 
feelings against the government,- 7 They began to look upon 
themselves as the sole representatives of the community. A 
decision of the SGPC became like a proclamation of the guru. 

While the kar seva was in progress, the Central Sikh League 
held a session at Jallianwala Bagh. At this meeting, rumours 
began to circulate that the government meant to remove Maha- 
rajah Ripudaman Singh of Nabha from his state. A few days later 
came an official announcement that the maharajah had abdi- 


The maharajah of Nabha' s dispute was with the maharajah of 
Patiala, not with the Government of India. But he had taken 
interest in the affairs of the community and the government 
was aware of his sympathies with the nationalist and Akali 
movements. 28 The government appointed Justice Stewart of the 

the government; PLCJ), 8 March 1923, p. 1100. According to the gov- 
ernment, the total number of Akalis in gaol on 1 January' 1923 was 3597: 
of these 3148 were convicted at Guru ka Bagh. On 25 October 1923 
Sir John Maynard gave the figure of Gum ka Bagh prisoners as 'over 4400' 
Sikhs. The final figure was 5554. PLCD, 2 January 1924, p. 124. 

27 It was commonly believed that a hawk which occasionally appeared 
and sat on the central pinnacle of the Golden Temple was a messenger 
of Guru Gobind Singh. The legend generated enormous religious fervour 
and further added to the popularity of the Akalis, to whose activities the 
'miracle' came to be ascribed. 

28 The Shiromani Gommittee received thousands of telegrams from 
the people demanding that full investigation be made into this (Nabha) 
affair. The committee addressed a telegram to this effect to the viceroy, 


Political Movements 

Allahabad High Court to enquire into the dispute. His finding 
was adverse to the ruler of Nabha. 29 The political agent 'per- 
suaded' Ripudaman Singh to abdicate in favour of his minor son. 
The SGPC passed a resolution exhorting the Sikhs to observe 9 
September, 1923, as 'Nabha Day\ The Sikhs of Nabha orga- 
nized a non-stop recitation of the Grarith in their gurdwaras. One 
such ceremony held at the temple at Gangsar in village Jaito was 
interrupted by the police. A new morca was thus launched; 
batches of passive resisters began arriving every day at Jaito. 
The government took up the challenge. The SGPC and the Akali 
Dal were declared illegal, and 59 Akali leaders were arrested. 30 
They were charged with conspiracy to wage war against the king 
and were taken to Lahore fort for trial. 

The maharajah of Nabha had great sympathy with the Gurdwara Reform 
movement and had rendered good service in the agitation over the wall 
of Rikab Ganj.' Statement by Mehtab Singh in the Akali leaders Case, i, 711. 

29 Justice Stewart conducted the enquiry at Ambala from 3 January to 
2 May 1 923. His findings were never disclosed to the public; only the parties 
concerned and the government received copies of the judgment. Details 
of the charges and counter-charges by one maharajah against the other 
were known only after the Akalis and, following them, the Indian National 
Congress had formally pledged support to Ripudaman Singh. At a meeting 
of the Central Sikh League in June 1923 at Amritsar, the president, Sunder 
Singh Lyallpuri, while supporting Nabha, admitted that 'both maharajahs 
had earned a bad name'. At the Indian National Congress Session at 
Coconada in December 1923, the president, Maulana Mohammad Ali said: 
'We hold no brief for the maharajah sahib; but this much is certain, that 
even if all that his detractors say of him be true, he was not deposed for 
any such shortcomings, but for his virtues.' The Akalis published their 
version of the aff air in a pamphlet entitled T-mth about Nabha, wherein they 
stated that the hostility towards Ripudaman Singh was due to his associa- 
tion with nationalist leaders. 

The name of Bhupendra Singh of Patiala (d.1937) had become a legend 
because of his gargantuan appetite for women. Ripudaman Singh of Nabha 
was no saint either. Among the many charges and countercharges hurled 
by the two maharajahs at each other, one related to the murder of one Lai 
Singh and another to the disappearance of a woman, Ishar Kaur. 

30 They included Mehtab Singh, Teja Singh Samundri, Teja Singh 
Akarpuri, Bhagat Jaswant Singh, Master Tara Singh, Bawa Harikishen 

Gurdwara Reform 


The incarceration of all the top leaders of the party did not 
kill the Nabha agitation; on the contrary, it became a mass 
movement in the real sense of the term. The sizes of jathas going 
to Jaito increased from twenty-five each to a hundred and then 
from one hundred to five hundred. They came from all parts of 
the Punjab, and through every village they passed, Sikh, Hindu, 
or Muslim, they were feted, garlanded, and sent off with good 
wishes. The Indian National Congress declared its full sympathy 
with the more a; among those arrested at Jaito was Jawaharlal 

While the jaito morca was going on, a second front was 
opened at Bhai Pheru in Lahore, where the maharit had resiled 
from an earlier agreement with the Akalis and charged them for 
trespass. Batches of 25 Akalis began to present themselves for 
arrest every day at Bhai Pheru. 

The unending stream of passive resisters that continued to 
arrive at Jaito and Bhai Pheru exasperated the government, and 
it made a desperate bid to smash the movement. In the first 
week of January 1924, Amritsar police raided the Akal Takht, 
seized documents of the SGPC, and arrested another 62 men. 
Measures taken by the Punjab police encouraged Nabha state 
authorities to go a step further. The English administrator 
ordered the confiscation of properties of the Akalis in the state, 
restricted many thousands to their villages, and authorized use 
of greater violence against jathas coming to Jaito. On 21 Febru- 
ary 1924, one such jatha of 500 Akalis arrived at Jaito and on 
its refusal to disperse was fired on by the state police resulting 
in considerable loss of life. 31 The shooting aroused sympathy for 

Singh, Gyani Sher Singh, Professor Teja Singh, Professor Narinjan Singh, 
Sarmukh Singh Jhabal, Sohan Singh Josh, Gopal Singh Qaumi, and Seva 
Singh Thikrivala. This trial had the most decisive influence on the future 
of Sikh politics. It went on for two years and three months without any result. 

31 According to the government version. 21 men were killed and 33 
injured; according to Akali sources the number of dead was over a hundred 
and of the injured over two hundred. 

Pressure of public opinion forced the government to hold an enquiry into 
the Jaito firing. A subordinate magistrate of the provincial civil service 


Political Movements 

the Akali cause throughout India/ 2 and the Sikhs were drawn 
closer to the freedom movement. 

The government tried to isolate the Akalis by giving wide 
publicity to the story that they (the Akalis) wished to restore Sikh 
rule in the Punjab. This propaganda had the reverse effect. Even 
Sikhs who had kept aloof from the movement felt that it was their 
duty to support a party which intended to restore their kingdom. 
And since there was no substance in the charge, Sikh leaders 
as well as Congress were able to accuse the government of 
deliberate perfidy. Meanwhile jathas continued marching trium- 
phantly across the Punjab to Amritsar and onwards to Jaito or 
Bhai Pheru. 

Sikh Gurdwaras Act 

Army authorities were seriously perturbed by the sympathy for 
the Akalis in the services. In March 1924, General Sir William 
Birdwood opened negotiations with the Akali leaders. By then the 
SGPC had declared that the Jaito morca was not a protest 
against the removal of Ripudaman Singh but was intended solely 

exonerated the state police from charge of excessive use of force. India in 
1923-24, pp. 325-31. Although the Akalis exaggerated the figures of killed 
and wounded, their plea that the police fired without provocation is convinc- 
ing. It was corroborated by men such as Professor Gidwani and Dr Kitchlew, 
who were arrested at the time, and an independent witness, Mr Zimand, 
correspondent of the New York Times, who was present throughout the 
incident. In a letter dated 9 February 1924, written to Mahatma Gandhi, 
Mr Zimand stated: 'I had every opportunity to see the jatha and the crowd; 
I did not see any one person in the jatha or the crowd carrying firearms or 
any other weapon . . . members of the jatha wore kirpans and the crowd had 
lathis. As far as I know no one had any other weapons." 

32 On 27 February 1924, 47 members of the Central Legislative 
Assembly moved an adjournment to discuss the Jaito firing. Among the 
movers were Mr M. A. Jinnah and Madan Mohan Malaviya. The speaker 
refused to allow the motion. A day later the working committee of the All 
India Congress Committee met in Delhi under the presidentship of 
Maulana Mohammad Ali and passed a resolution of sympathy with the 
victims of Jaito and promised assistance to the sufferers. A 'Congress- 
Akali bureau' was set up in Amritsar. 

Gurdwara Reform 


to affirm the right to perform religious ceremonies in their 
temples without outside interference. 33 General Birdwood's ef- 
forts bore fruit later, when Sir Malcolm Hailev became lieuten- 
ant governor (May 1924). Hailey was a skilful operator. He kept 
up police repression against Akali passive resisters and at the 
same time opened negotiations with moderate elements among 
the Sikhs. He encouraged the latter to set up sudhdr (reform) 
committees of loyal Sikhs in the Sikh districts. He toured the 
province and made speeches warning the Sikhs that continued 
agitation would affect their future in the armed services. 

Hailey 's tactics paid off. Although jathas continued to march 
(the number of men arrested in Jaito and Bhai Pheru had risen 
to nearly 10,000), the unity of the community was effectively 
undermined. A jatha consisting of members of Sikh Sudhar 
Committees was allowed to enter the gurdwara at Jaito and to 
perform the akhand path without interference (October 1924). 
By this move, Hailey put the onus of proving that the object of 
the morca was religious for the Akalis. Through a five-member 
committee constituted by the Sikh members of the Legislative 
Council, Hailey presented a draft of a new gurdwara bill to the 
Akali leaders imprisoned in Lahore fort. The bill met all the 
Akali demands and was passed into law in 1925. 34 Hailey, 

33 Vide Proclamation No. 1541. The Chief Khalsa Divvan had by now 
come round to the view that the Akalis were deliberately protracting the 
morca for political ends. The Khalsa Advocate wrote: 'There is a faction 
amongst the Sikhs, which is using the gurdwara reform movement to 
mislead the Sikhs and which is preventing an agreement because it does 
not want the agitation to end.' (Quoted by the Akali 26 March 1924.) 

34 The Sikh Gurdwaras Act of 1935 had two schedules: the first listed 
232 shrines. Another 28 were added to the list which were recognized as 
Sikh gurdwaras without further enquiry. The second schedule listed 224 
akharas of Udasis or Nirmalas which were not to be declared gurdwaras 
unless they fulfilled certain conditions. Any Sikh could put in a petition 
within one year to have any institution (except those listed in the second 
schedule) declared a gurdwara. 

A tribunal of three judges was set up to determine whether an institution 
was or was not a gurdwara and the compensation, if any, to be paid to any 
one deprived of possession. The tribunal's findings were subject to appeal 
to the High Court. 


Political Movements 

however, made it appear that only those who recanted their past 
deeds would be freed to take over the SGPC. S5 One group led 
by Mehtab Singh agreed to cooperate and was released. The 
larger number, which included Baba Kharak Singh and Master 
Tara Singh, considered the conditional release derogatory to 
their self-respect and refused to give any undertaking. They also 
insisted that all Akalis be freed before they would operate the 
act. A few months later they too were released and. as could have 
been anticipated, condemned Mehtab Singh' s party as collabo- 
rators and ousted it from control of the SGPC. Akali unity was 
shattered, and the agitation at Jaito petered out.* 6 Akalis, who 
had won their bitter struggle against the maharits and the 

The act provided for elected bodies to replace the maharits. The central 
body, the SGPC, was to consist of 151 members, of whom 120 were to be 
elected, 12 nominated by the Sikh states, 14 to be co-opted, and 5 to 
represent the four chief shrines of the faith. 

Local gurdwaras were to have their own elected bodies of management 
with one nominee of the SGPC on its committee. The act also indicated 
in what way incomes of gurdwaras were to be utilized. 

The most important part of the act was to define a Sikh as 'one who 
believed in the ten gurus and the Granth Sahib and was not a patit 
[apostate].' This last proviso was particularly odious to the Hindu members 
of the Legislative Council. 

35 T read to you the precise terms of our decision. The Punjab 
government will release (or will withdraw from the prosecution of) any 
person (other than those persons who have been convicted of or are under 
trial for crimes of violence or incitement to such crimes) who has been 
convicted by the criminal courts, or is under trial in such courts on charges 
arising out of the recent agitation in the Sikh community or on charges 
involving offences against the Criminal Law (Amendment) Act, provided 
that (and this is important) such release will be conditional on such 
persons signing and undertaking that they will obey the provisions of the 
law recently enacted securing to the Sikh community the control and 
management of shrines and their endowments and will not seek by means 
of force, or show of force, or by criminal trespass to gain control or 
possession of any shrine or the property attached to it or its endowments/ 
PLCD, 9 July 1925, p. 1304. 

36 Another pointless morca was launched by Baba Kharak Singh at 
Daska in district Siaikot. This was subsequent to a dispute with Hindus 
over property attached to a gurdwara. 

Gurdwara Reform 


government over control of their shrines, now turned their venom 
against each other. 

The number of men and women who were jailed or lost their lives 
in this movement cannot be stated with precision; the govern- 
ment's figures and those of the Akalis never tallied. However, 
the following statement made by Tara Singh of Ferozepur, who 
took a leading pan in the debate on the Gurdwara Act in the 
Punjab Legislative Council, was never challenged by the official 
members and ma\ be taken to approximate the truth: 'Briefly 
summarising, these sacrifices (at Tarn Taran, Nankana Sahib, 
Guru-ka-Bagh, Bhai Pheru and Jaito) amount to 30,000 arrested, 
400 killed and 2000 wounded, Rs 15 lacs of fine inflicted, includ- 
ing forfeiture of pensions of retired soldiers. In addition to this, 
a ban has been placed on civil and militarv recruitment of 
Sikhs/* 7 

The most significant outcome of the four years of intense 
agitation, in which the Hindus supported the Udasi mahants 
against the Akalis, was to widen further the gulf between the two 
communities. The breakaway from Hinduism, to which Kahan 
Singh of Nabha had given expression in his pamphlet Ham 
Hindu Nahih Hain — We are not Hindus (discussed in the 
chapter on Singh Sabha), was even more emphatically stated 
by Mehtab Singh in a speech he delivered on the first Gurdwara 

'I, for one, say that if the Sikhs do not wish to remain in the 
fold of Hinduism, why should the Hindus seek to force them to 
do so. What benefit can they obtain by keeping an unwilling 
people as partners in their community? WTiy not let them go? 
That, Sir, is at the bottom of the whole excitement. The Hindus 
say, we will manage your affairs for you as your gurdwaras are 
partly yours and partly ours. We say that we wish to manage our 

37 PLCD, 7 May 1925, p. 1105. According to Dr B. R. Ambedkar, 
because of the Akali agitation the proportion of Sikhs in the array was 
reduced from 20 per cent in 1914to 13percent in 1930 while that of Punjabi 
Mussalmans and Pathans rose from 26 per cent in 1914 to 34 per cent in 
1930. B. R. Ambedkar. Pakistan and the Partition of India, p. 84. 


Political Movements 

own affairs- and look after our own gurdwaras and are deter- 
mined to do so.' 3H 

Hindus, despite their opposition to the Akalis, continued to 
protest that Sikhs were Hindus. 4 1 look upon Sikhism as higher 
Hinduism,' said a leader of the Punjab Hindus. 39 Another, who 
came to the support of the gurdwara legislation, referred to the 
Sikhs as 'the flesh of our flesh, and the bone of our bone/ 40 
Whether the Sikhs were a separate people or a branch of the 
Hindu social system became a major issue in the years that 

The SGPC became a sort of parliament of the Sikhs: its 
decisions acquired the sanctity of the ancient gurumdtd; the Dal 
became its army; and the income from gurdwaras (over 10 lacs 
of rupees per year) gave it financial sustenance. Disbursement 
of this income in the management of shrines, patronage in the 
appointment of hundreds of grarithis, sevadars (temple servants), 
teachers, and professors for schools and colleges which were 
built, arrangements for the training of granthis and for mission- 
ary activity outside the Punjab, all made the SGPC a government 
within the government. Its control became the focal point of Sikh 
politics. The Akalis automatically took over control and have 
never relinquished it. The struggle for power has been between 
different factions of the same party. Of these, the one controlled 
by Master Tara Singh remained (except for brief periods) 
dominant for the following four decades. 

38 PLCD, 8 April 1921, p. 583. 

39 Raja Narendra Nath said: 'The Granth Sahib is nothing more nor less 
than the higher teachings of the Vedas and Upanishads in popular 
language — I need not dilate upon the close connection between the 
Hindus and Sikhs. It is well known that of two brothers, one may be a Hindu 
and the other a Sikh, and that the Sikhs and Hindus intermarry freely. 
Khatri and Arora Sikhs living in towns are supposed to follow Hindu law. 
In this connection it would be interesting lo peruse the Privy Council ruling 
reported as No. 84, P.R. 1903, in which the learned judges of the Privy 
Council held that Sikhs were Hindus.' PI XI), 5 April 1921, p. 539. 

40 PLCD, 6 July 1925, p. 1214. Sir Gokul Chand Narang, later minister 
in the Punjab government and author of Transformation of Sikhism. 

Gurdwara Reform 


The Akali movement was indirectly responsible for the politi- 
cal awakening in the princely states. After the settlement of 
disputes over the gurdwaras, the Akalis from the states began 
to agitate against the autocratic misuse of power by the maha- 
rajahs, chiefly Bhupendra Singh of Patiala. Bhupendra Singh 
retaliated by having the leading agitator, Seva Singh Thikrivala, 
transferred from Lahore gaol and interned in Patiala on a 
palpably false charge of theft. The Akalis took up the case of 
Thikrivala and let loose a campaign publicizing Bhupendra 
Singh's amorous escapades and the sadistic behaviour of his 
police. The maharajah was able to win over a section of the 
Akalis, 41 but could not silence the Punjabi and Urdu press. 

In 1928 Akalis from the states joined with Hindu nationalists 
and founded the Praja Maridal (States People's Association); 
the Mandal was later affiliated to the All India States People's 
Congress (in its turn associated with the Indian National Con- 
gress) . Seva Singh Thikrivala was the moving spirit behind the 
Mandal. He was arrested several times and in 1935 succumbed 
to third degree methods practised on him by the maharajah's 
gaolers. As a result of the murder of Thikrivala, 42 the anti- 
maharajah, anti-British movement gained momentum in all 
princely states of the Punjab. 

41 The pro-Patiala group was led by Gyani Sher Singh and Jaswant 
Singh Jhabal. They condemned the agitation against Bhupendra Singh as 
a bhra mam jang— -murderous war against a brother. 

42 A statue of Seva Singh Thikrivala (1878-1935) stands on the main 
thoroughfare leading to l he palace. It was erected at the instance of Brish 
Bhan when he was chief minister of Patiala and the Punjab States Union 
in 1955. 

Prominent among the men associated with Thikrivala were Bhagwan 
Singh Lohnguvalia, Gyani Zail Singh, Pritam Singh Gojran (later protago- 
nist of the Sikh state), and Jagir Singh Joga (communist). 

14. Constitutional Reforms 
and the Sikhs 

Sikh Indifference Towards Politics 
/^V f all the provinces of British India, the Punjab was the 

V^/ slowest to respond to schemes of self-government; and of 
the three communities of the Punjab, the Sikhs were the least 
responsive. Punjabi Hindus and Muslims had the benefit of the 
guidance of enlightened Hindus and Muslims from other parts 
of India. The Sikhs had no political teachers. The Malwais, 
who had long been under British protection, had remained under 
the unenlightened autocracies of princes and jagirdars who were 
singularly ill-equipped for leadership. 

The formation of the Indian National Congress in 1885 and 
Sir Syed Ahmed's United Patriotic Association in 1887 began 
a ferment in the Indian body politic. At the same time communal 
bodies became active: Muslim organizations began to press for 
special rights and protection of Urdu; Hindu associations began 
to demand the prohibition of the slaughter of cows and the 
recognition of Hindi as the national language. Educated mem- 
bers of the Chief Khalsa Diwan felt that they should also press 
for the rights of Sikhs: separate representation, special privi- 
leges and safeguards in services, and facilities for developing 
their language and preserving their way of life. 

Constitutional Reforms 


The Punjab Legislative Council was established in 1897. 1 It 
consisted of nine members nominated by the lieutenant gover- 
nor and was more in the nature of a durbar than a body of 
representative citizens. The governors, like their oriental prede- 
cessors, wished to be surrounded by men of proven loyalty from 
rich zamindar families or heads of religious organizations. In 
the early years, Sikh durbaris were chosen from the top layer 
of Sikh society.- These worthy gentlemen distinguished them- 
selves by observing throughout their tenures a respectful reti- 

Minto-Morley Reforms, 1909 

The first time the elective principle (alongside nomination) was 
introduced to select representatives for legislative bodies was 
with the introduction of reforms which went under the joint name 
of the governor general and the secretary of state as the Minto- 
Morley reform scheme of 1909. By then the Muslims had 
succeeded in persuading the not-tooreluctant Minto (who in turn 
persuaded Morley) that the best way of getting proper Muslim 

1 All hough the Indian Council Act of 1861 had authorized the setting 
up of provincial legislatures (and the Act of 1892 further increased their 
powers) , the Punjab did not have a council till 36 years later. The same 
indifference was shown towards municipal and district board administra- 
tion, Although the Municipal Act was passed in 1862 and the District Board 
Act in 1883, people took little interest in the elections; and those who were 
elected or nominated strictly toed the official line. The Tribune described 
Punjab's city fathers as men who knew no more than to say jo hukam 
khudaioand — Your Lordship's orders will be obeyed. Tribune, 14 April 1883. 

2 Sikh members of the Punjab council were Baba Sir Khem Singh Bedi, 
Bhagat Singh, chief secretary of Kapurthala state, Sir Ranbir Singh, and 
Pratap Singh Ahluwalia. Yuvraj Ripudaman Singh of Nabha and Arjan 
Singh of Bagarian were nominated to the governor general's council. The 
prince initiated the Anand Marriage Bill legalizing the Sikh form of 
marriage (thus excluding Hindu ritual from Sikh weddings). The bill was 
passed in 1509 when Nabha had been replaced by Sunder Singh Majithia. 

3 The silence was broken by Pratap Singh Ahluwalia on 28 February 
1907, when he uttered a few carefully prepared sentences on the Coloniza- 
tion Bill. PLCD, 28 February 1907. 


Political Movements 

representation was to have separate electorates, in which only 
Muslims could vote for Muslims and that the Muslims should be 
given 'weightage' to offset the Hindu preponderance in numbers. 
The Chief Khalsa Diwan asked for similar concessions for the 
Sikhs. The lieutenant governor supported the Diwan and wrote 
to the viceroy that 'in the Punjab the Sikh community is of the 
greatest importance and it should be considered whether any 
and what measures are necessary to ensure its adequate repre- 

No notice w r as taken of the Khalsa Diwan's representation nor 
of the lieutenant governor's recommendation. Under the Minto- 
Morley scheme, the Muslims were conceded separate represen- 
tation and weightage in the states in which they were a minority 
as well as at the centre; similar privileges were extended to 
neither the Hindus nor the Sikhs of the Punjab. Consequently, 
in the elections that followed, the Sikhs were muscled out by the 
Muslims or the Hindus 4 and the lieutenant governor had to 
complete the Sikh quota by nomination." 1 

The Lucknow Pact; Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms 
and the Government of India Act, 1919 

The next scheme of constitutional reforms was mooted while the 
outcome of the First World War was still uncertain. At the time 
the Sikhs' major preoccupation was with the fortunes of battle 
and with the proceedings of the Mesopotamia Commission (an 
enquiry into the breakdown of medical and other facilities for 

4 In 1909, the three seats open to election were all carried by Muslims; 
in 1912, of the six elected, four were won by Hindus, one by a Muslim and 
one by a Sikh; in 1916, out of eleven elected seats, the Hindus and Muslims 
obtained five each, a European got the eleventh; the Sikhs were not 
represented at all. 

5 Sunder Singh Majithia was nominated as representative of the Chief 
Khalsa Diwan, in addition to Pratap Singh Ahluwalia and Gurbaksh Singh 
Bedi, nominated earlier. In 1913 Daljit Singh of Kapurthala replaced 
Pratap Singh Ahluwalia, and a fourth man, Gajjan Singh, a lawyer from 
Ludhiana, was added to the Sikh quota. 

Constitutional Reforms 


the Indian — substantially Sikh — expeditionary force). Mean- 
while representatives of the Indian National Congress and the 
Muslim League met at Lucknow and drew up an agreement by 
which Muslims were conceded separate electorates in seven 
states in which they were in a minority, given half the elected 
seats in the Punjab and one-third of the elected seats in the 
central legislature (elected by a purely Muslim electorate) . 6 No 
Sikh was invited to these confabulations, nor was the Sikh point 
of view given adequate consideration. To forestall any political 
change based on the Lucknow Pact, the Chief Khalsa Diwan 
addressed a memorandum to the lieutenant governor stating 
that they would not accept a constitution 'which did not guaran- 
tee to them [the Sikhs] a share in the provincial and imperial 
councils as well as in the civil administration of the country, with 
due regard to their status before the annexation of the Punjab, 
their present state in the country and their past and present 
services to the empire. In order that such representation be 
adequate, effective and consistent with their position and impor- 
tance, the Sikhs claimed a one-third share in all seats and 
appointments in the Punjab as their just share: they demanded 
that their share in the viceroy's and the secretary of state's 
council should be adequate and fixed on principles of the like 
nature.' 7 

In August 1917, the secretary of state, Mr Montagu, made his 
momentous declaration that the aim of British policy was 'the 
increasing association of Indians in every branch of the admin- 
istration' and 'the gradual development of self-governing insti- 
tutions with a view to the progressive realisation of responsible 
government/ 8 When Mr Montagu visited India that autumn, 

6 A group of members of the Central Assembly had earlier addressed 
a note on constitutional reforms to the viceroy, Lord Hardinge; this also 
contained no safeguards for the Sikhs. The Lucknow Pact was a sequel o 
this 19-member memorandum. 

7 Chief Khalsa Diwan' s communication No. 5075 of 26 December 1916 
addressed to the chief secretary, Punjab government. 

8 Many British officials were critical of this step towards self-govern- 
ment. Sir Michael O'Dwyer was outspokenly hostile. 


Political Movements 

Maharajah Bhupendra Singh of Patiala conveyed the Sikhs' 
views to him. A deputation of Sikh leaders also waited on the 
viceroy (22 November 1917) and pressed their claim to a one- 
third representation in the Punjab on the basis of their services 
in the war. 

The Montagu-Chelmsford Report issued in the spring of 1918 
reassured the Sikhs. Its authors disagreed with the principle of 
separate representation conceded to the Muslims and expressed 
regret that it could not be altered. But they felt that what had 
been given to the Muslims could not in any fairness be denied 
to the Sikhs. They wrote: 'The Sikhs in the Punjab are a distinct 
and important people; they supply a gallant and valuable ele- 
ment to the Indian army; but they are everywhere in a minority 
and experience has shown that they go virtually unrepresented. 
To the Sikhs therefore, and to them alone we propose to extend 
the system already adopted in the case of Muhammadans — ' 9 

The Chief Khalsa Diwan expressed its appreciation, adding 
to its resolution the words: 'A minority community cannot allow 
itself to be swamped by the majority vote, purely on a numerical 
basis/ 10 

The Montagu-Chelmsford proposals were debated in the 
joint committee of the Punjab Legislative Council. Mian Fazl-i- 
Husain tried to push through a resolution that the Muslim pro- 
portion in the Punjab Legislative Council be based on the Lucknow 
Pact. Gajjan Singh proposed that the words 'subject to the just 
claims of the Sikhs' 11 be added to the resolution. The innocuous 
amendment was vigorously opposed by both Muslims and Hindu 

9 Montagu-Chelmsford Report, Indian Constitutional Reforms Report, 
p. 150. 

10 C.K.D. Resolution, 18 September 1918. Also quoted by Gajjan Singh 
in the P.L.CD., 21 November 1918, p. 527. 

11 Gajjan Singh elucidated what he meant by 'just claims'. He said: 
'According to the census figures of 1911 the Sikhs numerically form very 
nearly 12 per cent of the population of the Punjab (the actual figures being 
2,883,729 out of 24,187,750). With regard to the status and importance in 
the country and the services and sacrifices in the cause of the Empire, 
however, we occupy a unique position, unapproached and unapproachable 
by any other community in India. Our strength in the entire Indian Army 

Constitutional Reforms 


members. The chairman drew their attention to the injustice they 
were doing to the Sikhs. He said: 'You will have justified those 
among ourselves who contend that Indians are not really fit to 
manage their own affairs because they cannot consider sectar- 
ian questions in an unbiased spirit — It is perfectly obvious that 
if this amendment of Sardar Gajjan Singh is laid before this 
Council, simply because there are only two Sikhs, that it will be 
lOvSt. Nevertheless it is equally obvious that whatever it may be 
in form, it is in substance and spirit a perfectly just and fair 

The amendment was put to vote and, as anticipated, lost by six 
votes to two — the two being Sikhs. 12 Gajjan Singh then moved the 
resolution that one-third of the seats in the council be reserved 
for the Sikhs. This resolution met the same fate — the Hindu- 
Muslim block voting against the Sikhs. Sunder Singh Majithia 
fared no better in the Imperial Legislative Council: non-official 
Hindus and Muslims turned a deaf ear to Sikhs' pleadings. 

The Chief Khalsa Diwan continued to press for Sikh rights. B 
The only support it received was from the Punjab government, 
which addressed the Franchise Committee in the following 
words: Their [the Sikhsj influential position in the province, 

is 20 per cent, while among the units reciuited from the Punjab, which 
supplies no less than 60 per cent of the Indian combatants in His Majesty's 

.Army, we supply no less than a third of their entire man-power Nearly 

one-third of the awards made to the entire Indian army during the present 
war have been won by members of our community. Proportionately the 
largest numbers of recruits to keep up the fighting strength of the Indian 

Army have been supplied by us It has not been our habit to talk loudly 

of our services to the Empire or to demand rights and privileges for 
ourselves from the government, and that may be the leason why hitherto 
in all the schemes of reform and development of the administrative 
machinery in this country the Sikhs have suffered considerably in compari- 
son with the more articulate sections of their countrymen.' PLCD, 21 
November 1918, p. 528. 

12 Mian Fazl-i-Husain aimed another barbed shaft at the Sikhs. The 
Sikhs, he said, had kept aloof from the Lucknow pourparlers because they 
relied not so much on their rights as upon hopes of favouritism. 

13 CK.D. Resolution 7575 of 24 November 1918. 


Political Movements 

which is partly based on historical and political factors, partly 
on their military prestige and partly on their high educational 
level and economic importance in the central and colony dis- 
tricts, entitles them to a considerably greater degree of repre- 
sentation than is indicated by numbers alone. The number of 
Sikhs in the army is now believed to exceed 80,000, a proportion 
far higher than in the case of other communities, and the amount 
which they pay in the form of land revenue and canal charges 
is out of all proportion with their numerical strength.' 14 

The Punjab government's note also drew attention to the fact 
that the proportion of voters was highest among Sikhs and 
suggested that they be given 5 out of 26 of the non-official seats, 
that is, 19 per cent representation. The Franchise Committee 
ignored the suggestion and conceded only 'a separate electoral 
roll and separate constituencies for the Sikhs'; it was recom- 
mended that the Sikhs be given 8 out of 54 (15 per cent) non- 
official seats. The Chief Khalsa Diwan expressed 'feelings of 
grave and serious apprehension' at the Franchise Committee's 

The Government of India Act of 1919 did not give the Sikhs 
the 33 per cent that they had expected as a reward for their 
service rendered and their economic importance in the Punjab; 
in fact it gave them less in the Punjab than it gave to the Muslims 
in provinces in which they (the Muslims) were a minority. 13 
Under the new constitution, the Punjab Legislative Council would 
comprise 93 members, of whom 15 were to be Sikhs elected by 
Sikh constituents; 16 the Central Assembly was to have 145 
members, of whom three were to be Sikh; the Council of States 
would have 60 members, of whom one was to be a Sikh. 

14 Home-Judicial No. 2120 of 23 N'ovember 1918. The Sikhs paid 25 
per cent of the Punjab's land revenue and 40 per cent of the land revenue 
and water tax combined. 

15 The Sikhs, who formed 12 per cent of the Punjab, received 18 per 
cent representation; Muslims, who formed 1 1 per cent of the population 
of Bihar and Orissa, received 25 per cent representation. 

16 There was provision for nomination by the governor. Three additional 
Sikhs were nominated to the Council in 1920. 

Constitutional Reforms 


Provincial governments were to have two kinds of executives; 
one consisting of nominated members to deal with 'reserved 
subjects' (such as law and order and land revenue) and the other 
chosen from among the elected members to handle 'transferred 
subjects'. 17 The governor was to preside over both the execu- 
tives. The system was described as the double dyarchy of the 

The Chief Khalsa Diwan made a last effort (almost six 
months later than it should have) to influence the British govern- 
ment to revise its decision. A delegation of four Sikhs 18 arrived 
in London a week after the Joint Parliamentary Committee had 
made its report. The only satisfaction they could derive was the 
knowledge that the Committee had on its own initiative in- 
creased Sikh representation in the Punjab by two. 

The first elections under the new act took place in 1920. The 
treatment of the Ghadrites, the shooting at Jallianwala, and the 
tyranny of the martial law regime were fresh in the minds of the 
people. The nationalists boycotted the elections. The Chief 
Khalsa Diwan had begun to lose credit in the eyes of the Sikh 
masses, but no other political party had yet taken its place. With 
the limited franchise only the well-to do had a vote and could 
afford to contest. These men were largely independents. 19 The 

17 'Subjects which afford most opportunity for local knowledge and 
social service, those in which Indians have shown themselves to be keenly 
interested, those in which mistakes that occur, though serious, would not 
be irremediable, and those which stand most in need of development — 
e.g. education, agriculture, public health, local government. Over these 
functions the governor was to exercise powers of "superintendence, direc- 
tion and control." 1 

18 The delegates were Shiv Dev Singh Oberoi, Sohan Singh, Sewaram 
Singh, and Ujjal Singh — the last named became the chief exponent of Sikh 
views on constitutional matters. 

19 Of the elected Sikhs only two could be described as having a 
semblance of popular support in the community: Mehtab Singh, the Akali 
leader, who was elected from Lahore and became deputy president of the 
council, and Dasaundha Singh, a Jat from Ludhiana. Both men were 


Political Movements 

lieutenant governor nominated three others, including Sunder 
Singh Majithia, as representatives of the Chief Khalsa Diwan. 
Majithia was nominated to the governor's executive council and 
entrusted with the care of revenue matters. None of the three 
Sikhs elected to the Central Assembly had any political affili- 
ations. Jogendra Singh, 20 who was elected to the Council of 
States, was also a non-party man. 

The 1920 elections saw the emergence of the Unionist Party 
headed by Mian FazI-i-Husain and Chaudhri Chhotu Ram. The 
party consisted largely of Muslim landowners and Hindu Jats of 
Hariana — united in their loyalty to the British and their aversion 
to urbanite Hindus and Sikhs. Its composition was entirely 
'agriculturist/ and its policy was to forward the interest of the 
'agricultural' classes. Although the majority of Sikhs were Jats 
and agriculturists, leaders of the Chief Khalsa Diwan found the 
racial basis of the Unionists repugnant to the tenets of Sikhism 
and refused to join the party. Nevertheless a few years later a 
section of Sikh Jats realized that their Khatri and Arora co- 
religionists, being more educated, were getting away with the 
best jobs and threw in their lot with the Unionists. Under 
Unionist dispensation it was no longer good enough for a Punjabi 
to be Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh, or to be better qualified for a post; 
he had to prove that he belonged to an agricultural tribe. 

The Sikh Akalis and Nationalists made headway among 
masses, and in 1923 they were able to capture some seats in the 
Punjab Legislature. Nevertheless Sunder Singh Majithia was 
renominated to the lieutenant governor's executive council and 
reappointed minister of revenue. 

20 Jogendra Singh (1877-1946), a Jat of the Baath sub-caste, was a 
landowner with estates in Uttar Pradesh and in the Montgomery district. 
He served in Patiala state for some years before coming to the Punjab. In 
1926 he became minister of agriculture in the Punjab and thereafter held 
different ministerial posts for ten years. In July 1942 he was nominated to 
the governor general's executive council and became member for health, 
education, and lands. Jogendra Singh wrote a number of books in English. 
His publications include Kamla and Nur Jehan (both fiction) and some on 
Sikh religion. 

Constitutional Reforms 


The Round Table Conferences and the 
Government of India Act of 1935 

The Simon Commission and the Nehru Report 

In the autumn of 1927 the British government announced that a 
commission under the chairmanship of Sir John Simon would be 
sent to India to review the working of the Government of India 
Act of 1919. Since no Indians were associated with the commis- 
sion, both the National Congress and the Muslim League re- 
solved to boycott its deliberations. Consequently when the 
Commission arrived in India it was greeted with black flags and 
mobs shouting 'Simon, go back'. 21 

The Punjab Legislative Council nominated a committee under 
the chairmanship of Sikandar Hayat Khan with Ujjal Singh 22 
as secretary to furnish evidence to the commission. A memo- 
randum on Sikh representation 23 was presented to the commis- 
sion. It said: 'While anxious to maintain their individuality as 
a separate community they [the Sikhs] are always ready to 

21 In many places, the police had forcibly to disperse mobs; at one such 
melee in Lahore Lajpat Rai was injured. It was popularly believed that the 
Lala had been assaulted by Inspector Saunders of the Punjab police. Later 
Saunders was shot dead. Three young men, Bhagat Singh, Rajguru, and 
Sukhdev, were convicted of the murder and executed on 23 March 1931. 
Bhagat Singh became the most famous of all terrorists in the annals of 
Indian revolutionary history. Mahatma Gandhi wrote, k there has never 
been, within living memory, so much romance round any life as had 
surrounded that of Bhagat Singh.' 

22 Ujyal Singh (b. 1895), an Arora of Shahpur district, owned large 
estates in Multan district. He was elected to the Punjab Legislative Council 
in 1926, was finance minister in the Sachar government, and remained in 
the hub of Sikh politics till 1955. In 1965 he was nominated governor of 
the Punjab. 

23 The signatories to the memorandum were Shivdev Singh Oberoi 
(president of the Chief Khalsa Diwan and member of the Council of 
States), Harbans Singh of Attari (secretary, Chief Khalsa Diwan), Raghbir 
Singh Sandhawalia, Sunder Singh Majithia and Mohan Singh Rais of 
Rawalpindi. Memorandum on Sikh Representation to be placed before the 
Indian Statutory Commission, May 1928. 


Political Movements 

cooperate with their sister communities for the development of 
a united nation. They would, therefore, be the first to welcome 
a declaration that no considerations of caste or religion shall 
affect the matter of organisation of a national government in the 
country. They are prepared to stand on merit alone, provided 
they, in common with others, are permitted to grow unhampered 
by any impediments, in the way of reservation for any other 
community.' 24 

If, however, separate representation was to continue, the 
memorandum demanded that in the Punjab Legislature commu- 
nal proportions should be fixed as follows — 40 per cent Muslim, 
30 per cent Hindu, and 30 per cent Sikh. Claim was made for 
Sikh representation in Sindh (if it was made into a separate 
province), Delhi, and the North West Frontier Province. 

While the commission was at work, the Indian National 
Congress tried once more (as in 1916) to present the British 
government with a draft constitution agreeable to Indians. In 
February 1928 it called a conference of members of all impor- 
tant Indian parties 'to consider and determine the principles of 
the constitution for India/ The moving spirit behind the confer- 
ence was Motilal Nehru; his son, Jawaharlal, was secretary. The 
Sikhs were represented by Mangal Singh Gill. The Nehru Report 
recommended the abolition of separate electorates but agreed 
to reservation of seats for Muslims at the centre and in the 
provinces in which they were a minority; the only other people 
for whom this concession was recommended were non-Muslims 
of the North West Frontier Province. Mangal Singh did not press 
for special rights for his community in his home state or at the 
centre. 25 

24 Ibid., p. 2. 

25 The committee met for over two months. At first Mangal Singh 
insisted that, if the Muslims were given separate rights, the Sikhs would 
ask for one-third representation in the Punjab and 5 per cent at the centre. 
And, if weightage was abolished, he would accept representation on the 
basis of population with the right to contest other seats. The final decision 
to give up all communal representation was taken under the inspiration of 
Dr Ansari. (Author's interview with Mangal Singh Gill.) 

Constitutional Reforms 


The Nehru Report was an impressive exercise in political 
bargaining. But the Muslims took scant notice of it, and the Sikhs 
rejected it. One group led by Baba Kharak Singh was so angered 
by the report that it severed its connection with the Indian 
National Congress. Others led by Master Tara Singh were 
equally emphatic in their rejection of the proposals but decided 
to continue their association with the Congress and so remained 
in the mainstream of national politics. The Nehru Report found 
honourable burial in the archives of the National Congress. 

The Simon Commission was still drafting its proposals when 
Lord Irwin announced that a conference of representatives from 
British India and the Indian States would be convened in London 
to discuss the question of granting Dominion status to India. The 
Indian National Congress asked for a declaration that the 
conference would frame a Dominion constitution for India and 
not merely discuss when or how it was to be granted. As no such 
declaration was forthcoming, the Congress decided to abstain 
from the conference and, at its session in December 1929 at 
Lahore, passed a resolution in favour of complete independence 
(instead of Dominion status) for India. Political opinion in 
England hardened against the nationalists. 

In March 1930, the Mahatma launched a campaign to break 
the law 7 by manufacturing salt, which was a government mo- 
nopoly. He and most other national leaders were imprisoned. 
Thus the most important Indian political party was unrepresented 
at the first London Conference. 

In May 1930, the Simon Commission made its report propos- 
ing a federal constitution with two houses of legislature at the 
centre and autonomy for the constituent provinces and the 
princely states. The recommendations were a step forward in 
regard to the provinces, where dyarchy was abolished and they 
became masters of their own homes. But the report did not 
recommend wider powers for central government. It gave a 
certain measure of reassurance to the Sikhs: ' It would be unfair 
that Mohammedans should retain the very considerable weightage 
they now enjoy in the six provinces and that there should at the 
same time be imposed, in face of Hindu and Sikh opposition, 


Political Movements 

a definite Muslim majority in the Punjab and in Bengal unalter- 
able by any appeal to the electorate.' 26 

The recommendations disappointed progressive opinion both 
in India and in England. In September, the viceroy issued 
invitations to 66 Indians (50 from British India and 16 from the 
states) to proceed to London to deliberate on the recommenda- 
tions. The Sikh invitees (in addition to Bhupendra Singh of 
Patiala, who was invited as the chancellor of the Chamber of 
Princes) were Sampuran Singh and Ujjal Singh. The Akalis, the 
party that really mattered, consisted largely of jathedars inca- 
pable of grasping the niceties of constitutional practice; the 
Akalis tacitly acquiesced in the selection. 

The First Round Table Conference 

The First Round Table Conference opened in London in Novem- 
ber 1930, with Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald in the chair. 
He outlined the Simon Commission scheme for a federal India; 
the princes (except Bhupendra Singh of Patiala) expressed 
willingness to join the federation, The biggest hurdle was com- 
munal representation. Sikh delegates agreed to joint electorates 
with the reservation of seats for minorities, but they strongly 
opposed communal majorities based on separate electorates. 27 
The Muslims were unwilling to accept joint electorates on any 
terms. Separate electorates won the day — not only for Muslims 
but also for Sikhs, Indian Christians, Anglo-Indians, and the 

The First Round Table Conference achieved more than either 
the British government or the participants had anticipated. It 
encouraged Lord Irwin to extend the hand of friendship to the 
Mahatma. On 5 March 1931, they signed a pact (known there- 
after as the Gandhi-Irwin Pact) whereby nationalists were re- 
leased from gaol, the passive resistance movement was called 
off, and Mahatma Gandhi accepted an invitation to go to London 
for the Second Round Table Conference. He was to be the sole 

26 Simon Commission Report, Indian Statutory Commission Report, n, 71. 

27 The Sikhs' demands were tabulated in 17 points. 

Constitutional Reforms 


representative of the Indian National Congress. The delegates 
to th. first conference were re-invited. 

Second Round Table Conference 

The Second Round Table Conference met under adverse cir- 
cumstances. The progressive labour government had been de- 
feated in the elections, and Ramsay MacDonald now presided 
over a coalition which was largely conservative. Wedgwood Benn 
had been replaced by the reactionary Samuel Hoare as secre- 
tary of state; and, at home, the gentle Irwin had been succeeded 
by the blimpian Willingdon as viceroy. 

The conference bogged down on the question of communal 
representation. Mahatma Gandhi tried to resolve the issue by 
private talks outside the conference hall. His efforts were 
unsuccessful because Mr Jinnah refused to give up separate 
electorates for the Muslims. On behalf of the Sikhs, Ujjal Singh 
reiterated their offer to accept joint electorates; but if separate 
representation was conceded to any community, particularly the 
Muslims, the Sikhs would insist on getting it as well. He added: 
'Unless the communal question, which in the Punjab means the 
Muslim-Sikh question, is settled, it is not possible for the Sikhs 
to commit themselves to a federal scheme in which the Punjab 
would be an autonomous province.'- 8 

Ujjal Singh and Sampuran Singh demanded for the Sikhs 30 
per cent representation in the Punjab' 9 and 5 per cent at the 
centre, with at least one Sikh member in the central cabinet. 
Ujjal Singh presented as an alternative a scheme for a territorial 
readjustment of the Punjab. He proposed that the Rawalpindi 

28 Second Round Table Conference, Minorities Committee. I, 89. 

29 In Bihar and Orissa, the Muslims, who constituted 1 1 per cent of the 
population had 25 per cent representation, that is, 130 per cent weightage; 
in the UP they formed 14.8 per cent of the population and had 30 per cent 
representation, that is, 100 per cent weightage; in the CP. they had 4.4 
per cent population and had 15 per cent representation, that is, 250 per cent 
weightage. Anglo-Indians with .02 per cent population of the Punjab had 
4000 per cent weightage. The Europeans had even greater weightage. 


Political Movements 

and Multan divisions (excepting the districts Lyallpur and 
Montgomery) should be separated from the Punjab and at- 
tached to the North West Frontier Province, which would make 
the communal proportions in the Punjab 43.3 per cent Muslims, 
42.3 per cent Hindu, and 14.4 per cent Sikhs. In this Punjab, the 
Sikhs would not ask for any weightage, and would only ask for 
it in the North West Frontier Province and Sindh if the Muslims 
received it in other provinces. This eminently sensible and 
constructive proposal 30 received scant consideration from the 
conference and was rejected along with a similar, but from the 
Sikh point of view less satisfactory, proposal by S. W. G. Corbett, 
to detach Ambala division from the Punjab and join it to the 
United Provinces. 

In the absence of agreement among the Indian delegates, 
Ramsay MacDonald assumed the right to adjudicate on joint 
versus separate electorates and the proportions of communal 
representation. The Second Round Table Conference was a 
dismal failure. 

The Mahatma returned home to find many of his colleagues 
in prison. A * no-rent' campaign had started in the United Prov- 
inces; the Red Shirt movement was active in the North West 
Frontier Province; and terrorists had renewed their activities. 
The Mahatma protested against Willingdon's repressive mea- 
sures; Willingdon promptly clamped the Mahatma in gaol. 

The Communal Award 

On 16 April 1932, Ramsay MacDonald made his award on 
communal representation. Separate electorates were given to 
all minorities: Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, as well as the un- 
touchables. 31 The Muslims were given 33.1/3 per cent weightage 
in the centre and 86 out of 175 seats in the Punjab. The Sikhs 

30 For details see Second Round Table Conference, Minorities Committee, 
in, Appendix xvin, pp. 1435-7. 

31 This was later withdrawn under the 'Poona Pact' between the 
Mahatma and Dr Ambedkar. The untouchables were given heavy weightage 
in mixed Hindu seats. 

Constitutional Reforms 


were also given weightage but not in the same measure as the 
Muslims; their position was as follows: 

33 out of 175 in the Punjab Assembly; 

3 out of 50 in the North West Frontier Province; 

6 out of 250 in the Federal Legislative Assembly; and 

4 out of 150 in the Council of States. 

The Sikhs got nothing in the United Provinces and Sindh, 
where they had by then sizeable populations. 

The award was a bitter blow to the Sikhs. It gave the Muslims 
a permanent communal majority in the Punjab. Sampuran Singh 
and Ujjal Singh issued a joint statement strongly criticizing the 
award and, as a protest, withdrew from the conference. 

Third Round Table Conference 

The third conference was called to consider the reports of the 
committees which had been deliberating during the previous 
months. Only 46 Indians were invited. The Sikh nominee, Tara 
Singh of Ferozepur, protested against provincial autonomy un- 
der a permanent and dominant Muslim majority in the Punjab. 
He supported safeguards which would provide that measures 
affecting minorities should not be passed without the consent of 
three-fifths of the community concerned and l>e subject to the 
veto of the governor. He pleaded for weightage in services, a 5 
per cent representation in the Federal Legislature, and Sikh 
representation in Sindh. 32 

The results of the conference were published in the form of 
a White Paper in March 1933. A joint committee of the two 
Houses of the British Parliament was set up under Lord Linlithgow 
(later viceroy of India) to work out the details of the future 
administration of India. 33 

32 Third Round Table Conference, pp. 99-102. 

33 Some Indians were invited to collaborate win this committee's 
deliberations, The Sikhs were represented by But a Singh Virk, a lawyer 
from Sheikhupura who was also a member of the Punjab Legislative 


Political Movements 

The Government of India Act, 1935 

On 4 August 1935, the Government of India Act received royal 
assent. It provided for a Federation of Indian Provinces and 
Princely States with two Houses of Parliament in the centre: the 
Central Legislative Assembly and the Council of States. Six of 
the larger provinces were to have two legislatures of their own; 
the rest, including the Punjab, only one. About 11.5 per cent of 
the population was enfranchised, giving 30 million people the 
right to vote. While the provinces were made masters in their 
homes (subject to the reservation of special powers of interven- 
tion by governors), the Central Government remained as before 
under the control of the governor general. Dyarchy, which had 
been abolished in the provinces, was introduced in the centre. 
Subjects such as defence and foreign affairs were to be 're- 
served' and therefore the prerogative of the governor general. 

The Indian National Congress rejected the Government of 
India Act of 1935, because of the powers of intervention given 
to governors in the provinces and the dyarchy in the centre. It 
resolved to capture power and then destroy the constitution. The 
Muslim League followed suit but reserved the right to try out the 
provincial scheme Tor what it was worth'. The princes who had 
shown such alacrity in accepting federation got cold feet when 
they realized it would mean surrendering some of their 'sover- 
eignty'. Sikh political parties had already condemned the com- 
munal award; they added their voice to the chorus of denunciation. 
For all practical purposes, the Government of India Act of 1935 
was a stillborn child. 

The first elections under the new act were held in the winter 
of 1936-7. The Sikhs had the choice of backing either the 
Congress or the Unionists. They rejected both: the Congress 
because of its predominantly anti-Sikh Arya Samaj leadership; 
the Unionists because, despite their championing the cause of 
the agriculturists (which found favour in the eyes of Sikh agri- 
culturists) , their primary interest was the Mussulman Jat; the 
Sikh and Hindu Jat was of secondary importance. They could 
have formed alliances with one or the other political party, but 

Constitutional Reforms 


none of the leaders had the foresight or the following to do so. 
Instead they split their forces into the Akali and the anti-Akali 
group (known as the Khalsa National party), both of minor 
importance in provincial affairs and of none whatsoever on the 
national scene. 

In all provinces except Bengal, Sindh, and the Punjab, the 
Indian National Congress swept the polls. Its poorest perfor- 
mance was in the Punjab, where it got a bare 1 0 per cent of the 
vote. Out of the total of 175 seats, the Unionists won 96 and the 
Khalsa Nationalist party won 15-30 (some members constantly 
changed their allegiance); the rest were shared by the Congress, 
Muslim League, Communists, and Independents. Sikandar Hayat 
Khan chose his cabinet of three Muslims, two Hindus, and one 
Sikh (Sunder Singh Majithia) . The rural-Jat bias was in evidence 
as before; of the six ministers only one of the Hindus was an 
urban non-agriculturist. 

The Unionist ministry did not have an easy time. Rumours of 
an impending war with Hitlerite Germany and the increased 
tempo of the nationalist movement indicated a change in the 
political barometer. People knew India would soon be free; but 
who would be masters of the Punjab — the Muslims or the 
Sikhs? 34 

34 The uncertainty bred suspicion and hate; occasionally the hate 
exploded into violence. The most serious example of this was in 1938 over 
the possession of Shahidganj — the martyrs' market (the notorious nakhds 
referred to in Volume I — claimed by Muslims to be a mosque, by the Sikhs 
to be a gurdwara. The Sikhs won their case in the High Court but not before 
many Muslims had been shot by the police and a few thousand imprisoned 
for defying the law. 





In March 1940, the Muslim League passed a resolution demand- 
ing a sovereign Muslim state which would comprise the predomi- 
nantly Muslim areas of India including most of the Punjab. The 
Sikhs were deeply disturbed by this demand: the course of Sikh- 
Muslim relations over the centuries had created distrust of 
Muslim intentions in their minds. The only alternatives for the 
Sikhs were either to align themselves with the Indian National 
Congress and resist the Muslim demand for the partition of 
India or to strive for a state of their own. 

During the war years (1939-45) Sikh politicians waged a losing 
battle against the movement for the formation of Pakistan. When 
the Muslims won, the Sikhs of western Punjab had to abandon 
their homes, lands, and shrines, and migrate to India. Dissat- 
isfaction with the treatment they received from the Government 
of India and the resurgence of Hinduism gave an impetus to the 
demand for a Sikh homeland. 


15. Sikhs and World War II 

Indian Politics During the * Phony War' 1939-40 

On 3 September 1939, Great Britain declared war on Nazi 
Germany. The viceroy issued a proclamation to the same 
effect on behalf of India. Although the Indian National Congress 
expressed repugnance for Fascism, it protested that Indians 
had not been consulted before being committed to the war. The 
Muslim League was also critical of the viceroy's declaration. But 
Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan and the Unionist Muslims — who were 
technically members of the League — expressed their unre- 
served support for Britain. For the Sikh leaders, the war created 
a crisis of conscience; their loyalty to the Raj had been diluted 
by the events of the preceding twenty years, but they did not wish 
their community to lose its coveted position in the armed forces. 
Unlike the Congressite or the Muslim Leaguer who had no 
influence over the martial sections of the populace, the Sikh 
politician had to be both a political guide and a recruiting agent. 

The titled gentry of the Chief Khalsa Diwan promptly de- 
clared their support for Britain. Congressite Sikhs followed the 
Congress line of s)Tnpathy-but-no-support. Communists, who had 
acquired influence in the central districts, adhered to the party 
line of regarding the war in Europe as imperialist; their agents 
busied themselves disseminating anti-war propaganda among 
Sikh soldiers. The Akalis, who mattered more than all the other 


Politics of Partition 

parties put together, were the most confused. The leaders, most 
of whom had served terms of imprisonment during the gurdwara 
agitation, had little love for the British. They were equally hostile 
to the Muslim Leaguers and to the pro-British Unionists. But they 
wished to preserve the numerical strength of the Sikhs in the 
armed services so that when the day of reckoning came, the 
Khalsa would have an army of its own. The Akali party agreed 
to help the government and pressed for more Sikh recruitment; 
at the same time it carped at the administration over matters 
of little import, for example, non-availability of jhatkd (non- 
kosher) meat at railway stations, refusal of gaol authorities to 
allow Sikh convicts to wear kirpans, etc. 

The unenthusiastic support of the Akalis and the antagonism 
of the Communists during the 'imperialist' phase of the war was 
reflected in the reluctance of Sikh peasants to enlist and 
disaffection in some regiments. A Sikh squadron of the Central 
India Horse refused to go overseas; over a hundred were court- 
martialled, and a few executed. Some Sikhs of the gist Punjab 
regiment deserted. Sikhs of the Royal Indian Army Supply 
Corps, serving in Africa, refused to load stores on the plea that 
they were not 'coolies'. These and similar incidents compelled 
the authorities to put a temporary ban on the recruitment of 
Sikhs. A committee was appointed to look into the situation. It 
found evidence of Communist infiltration in the ranks and also 
a pervading sense of uneasiness among the Sikhs concerning the 
Unionist Ministry's alignment with the Muslim League, which 
had begun to talk of a Muslim state in the Punjab. Sikh 'griev- 
ances' were redressed; assurances were given to the leaders 
that Sikh interests would not be sacrificed to appease the 
Muslims. A Khalsa Defence of India League under the chairman- 
ship of the maharajah of Patiala was organized to step up 
recruitment. The ban on the enlistment of Sikhs was lifted. 1 

1 The enquiry was suggested by the secretary of the Defence Ministry, 
Sir Charles O'Gilvy, who had served in the Punjab. It consisted of officers 
well acquainted with the Sikhs: Brigadier General A. E. Barstow (Chair- 
man), Major A. J. M. Kilroy (36th Sikhs), Major A. E. Farwell (Ludhiana 

Sikhs and World War II 


The issue was, however, more complicated than a simple 'for' 
or * against' the British war effort. The Sikhs had also to make 
terms with their fellow Indians — the Hindus, most of whom 
supported the Congress, and the Muslims, most of whom were 
emotionally aroused by the notion of an independent Muslim 
state. It was in the negotiations with their own countrymen that 
Sikh leaders betrayed confusion and the absence of a precise 
Sikh point of view. The Viceroy's efforts to elicit cooperation of 
Indian political parties in the prosecution of the war failed. On 
the resignation of Congress ministries, the governors took over 
the administration in seven provinces. Only in four provinces was 
the Muslim League (in the Punjab, the Unionists) able to carry 
on the business of government through elected representatives. 
While the Muslim League eagerly filled the power vacuum, the 
Congress reaffirmed its decision to non-cooperate with the war 
effort and went further into the wilderness. A group led by 
Subhas Chandra Bose and Sardul Singh Caveeshar (d. 1963) 
broke away from the parent body to organize more active 
opposition to the British. A few days later, the Muslim League 
in a session at Lahore formally resolved that its aim was an 
independent Muslim state. 2 

Sikhs), Major 'Billy' Short (47th Sikhs), and Captain Narinjan Singh Gill, 
who later joined the Japanese-sponsored Indian National Army. Members 
of the commission indhi dually toured Sikh districts and discussed the 
difficulties of soldiers with retired Sikh officers. They also had meetings 
with political leaders. 

2 The Lahore resolution did not use the word Pakistan but the intention 
was abundantly clear: 'that no constitutional plan would be workable in this 
country or be acceptable to the Muslims unless it is designed on the 
following basic principles, namely, that geographically contiguous units are 
demarcated into regions which should be so constituted, with such territorial 
adjustments as may be necessary, that the areas in which the Muslims are 
numerically in a majority as the northwestern and eastern zones of India 
should be grouped to constitute "independent states," in which the constitu- 
ent units should be autonomous and sovereign/ (Emphasis added.) 

The words in italics were rightly interpreted by non-Muslims to indicate 
that the Muslim League did not want the whole of the Punjab but was willing 
to exclude the eastern half, which was predominantly non-Muslim. 


Politics of Partition 

Mr Jinnah assured the Sikhs that they had nothing to fear. Sir 
Sikandar Hayat Khan, who had sponsored the original draft of 
the Lahore resolution, tried further to allay the suspicions of non- 
Muslims. He said: 'We do not ask for freedom that there may 
be Muslim Raj here and Hindu Raj elsewhere. If that is what 
Pakistan means I will have nothing to do with it — If you want 
real freedom for the Punjab, that is to say a Punjab in which every 
community will have its due share in the economic and ad- 
ministrative fields as partners in a common concern, then that 
Punjab will not be Pakistan, but just Punjab, land of Five rivers; 
Punjab is Punjab and will always remain Punjab whatever any- 
body may say. This then, briefly, is the political future which I 
visualise for my province and for my country under any new 
constitution.' 3 

This verbal jugglery did not impress the Sikh leaders. On the 
contrary, they were convinced that the Muslim Unionist was only 
the Dr Jekyll aspect of the Muslim League's Mr Hyde, and that 
Sir Sikandar Hayat Khan was just another double-faced politi- 

The Sikhs found themselves in a tricky situation. They were 
faced with two rival freedom movements: one led by the National 
Congress for the freedom of the country as a whole; the other 
led by the Muslim League for an independent Muslim state 
involving a division of the country which would inevitably cut 
across the land in which the Sikhs lived. Congress leaders, much 
as they desired to have the Sikhs on their side, were unwilling 
to concede to them the privileges they enjoyed under British rule. 
On the contrary, in the shape of things envisaged by the nation- 
alists, separate electorates and privileges based on race or 
religion were to be abolished. The League promised little; and 
even in that little the Sikhs placed no faith. What course of action 
could the Sikhs follow? Obtain the best terms they could from 
the Congress and support a free, united India? Exploit Congress- 
League differences and extract concessions from both? Or, 
ignore both the Congress and the League and strive for an 

3 PLCD, 11 March 1941. 

Sikhs and World War II 


autonomous state of their own? Some politicians advocated one 
line of policy; others the absolute opposite. Events began to move 
so fast that they had little time to sit back, take stock of the 
situation, and then present a united front of Sikh political 

The political stalemate in India ended with the conclusion of the 
'phoney war' in Europe. In April 1940 the Nazis overran Norway, 
Denmark, Holland, Belgium and smashed through the Franco- 
British defences. French resistance collapsed; Britain avoided 
a near disaster at Dunkirk. In May, Winston Churchill took over 
as prime minister with L. S. Amery as his secretary of state for 

Lord Linlithgow resumed his efforts to resolve the Indian 
deadlock. In August he offered to expand his Executive Council 
and establish a War Advisory Council with Indian members; he 
proposed a new constitution with appropriate safeguards for 
minorities on the successful termination of the war. Both the 
Congress and the Muslim League rejected the 'August offer'. 
The Congress went further and started another civil disobedi- 
ence movement. In January 1941, Subhas Chandra Bose disap- 
peared from his home in Calcutta. Some weeks later his voice 
was heard over Berlin radio exhorting his countrymen to rise 
against the British. 

In the summer of 1941, the war entered a critical phase. 
Fascist powers invaded Yugoslavia and Greece. Germany at- 
tacked Russia, and Nazi armour smashed its way towards 
Moscow. General Rommel threatened the Middle East; Arab 
followers of the Mufti of Jerusalem declared for the Axis powers. 

The succession of reverses suffered by the Allies cast gloom 
over India. How long would it be before the British capitulated? 
Would the Fascists take over India? Would there be a civil war 
between the Hindus and the Muslims? These were the sort of 
questions people asked each other. The Sikhs became restive. 
There were rumours of a Khalsa uprising against the Unionist 
administration. At a largely attended meeting in Amritsar, reso- 
lutions were passed denouncing the Unionist Ministry's Muslim 


Politics of Partition 

Raj. Having thus let off steam, the leaders relapsed into a sullen 
and confused silence. 

Lord Linlithgow abandoned his efforts to bring round the 
Congress and the League. In July 1941, he announced that he 
would enlarge his Executive Council from seven to twelve mem- 
bers, of whom eight would be Indians. He also set up a National 
Defence Council of 30 members, Two Sikhs 4 were nominated to 
the Defence Council and a year later Sir Jogendra Singh was 
invited to take over the education portfolio in the Executive 

Sikh Attitude to the War in Asia: 
The Indian National Army 

Some months before Pearl Harbour (7 December 1941), Japa- 
nese agents had established contacts with leaders of Indian 
communities in Thailand, China, Hong Kong, Cambodia, the 
Philippines, Burma, Malaya, and Singapore. The Indian popula- 
tion of these countries was estimated to be well over two million 
and known to be hostile to the British. The Japanese chose Rash 
Bihari Bose to win Indian collaboration. Bose's name com- 
manded the respect of patriotic Indians and, because of his 
earlier association with the Ghadr rebellion, he was held in 
special esteem by the Sikhs. Since 1915 he had lived in Japan 
and had married the daughter of the chief of the Black Dragon 
Society. Rash Bihari had persuaded the Japanese government 
to agree that, in the event of a war with England, Indians would 
not be treated as enemy subjects and captured but that Indian 
army personnel would be turned over to him. Major Fujiwara of 
the Japanese intelligence was appointed liaison officer; his 
bureau came to be named after him as the Fujiwara Kikan. 
Rash Bihari Bose showed a marked preference for Sikhs. 5 

4 The maharajah of Patiala and Naunihal Singh Mann were nominated 
to the Defence Council 

5 In Thailand his collaborators were Amar Singh (who had spent nearly 
twenty years in British gaols), Gyani Pritam Singh, who was the grarithi of 
the gurdwara at Bangkok, and Chanda Singh, a rubber planter in Yah. 

Guru Charan Singh 
(Radha Soami (Photo 
courtesy Rakesh Sahai, 
AGP Photobank) 


Swaran Singh 
(Photo courtesy Rakesh 
Sahai, AGP Photobank) 

Master Tara Singh with Sant Fateh Singh 

S.S. Barnala 

(Photo courtesy Andhra Pradesh 
Bhawan, New Delhi) 

Parkash Singh Badal 
(Photo courtesy Panjab 
Bhawan, New Delhi) 

Captain Amarinder Singh 
(Photo courtesy Panjab Bhawan, 
New Delhi) 

Ajeet and Arpana Caur 
with a portrait of Ajeet's 
father done by Arpana 

Navtej Singh Johar (Photo by Greg Reynolds) 

Gurinder Chadha 

(Photo courtesy 

The Hindustan Times) 

Yogi Bhajan 
(Photo courtesy 
Aquarian Times and 
3HO Foundation) 

Sikhs and World War II 


He established contacts with Sikh organizations in Thailand and 
Malaya and with grarithis attached to Sikh regiments. 6 

Rash Bihari Bose followed in the wake of the advancing 
Japanese armies. Wherever he went, he set up branches of his 
Indian Independence League. 

Japanese armies pushed across the Thai-Malayan border and 
defeated the British-Indian forces opposing them. Among the 
thousands of Indians captured was Captain Mohan Singh 7 of the 
1st/ 14th Punjab Regiment, Mohan Singh offered his services to 
the Japanese commander. 

Indian prisoners of war in the camp at Alor Star were placed 
at the disposal of Mohan Singh. He was elevated to the rank of 
general and made commanding officer of the newly raised 
Indian National Army (hereafter referred to by its initials as the 
INA) . The first brigade of the INA spearheaded the Japanese 
assault on Singapore, which was captured on 15 February 1942. 

At Singapore 45,000 Indian prisoners of war were assembled. 
Of the 20,000 who volunteered to join the INA, a high proportion 
were Sikhs. 8 General Mohan Singh set up his headquarters at 
Singapore, next door to the offices of the Fujiwara Kikan. He 

These men were members of the 'Bharat Culture Lodge' of Bangkok nin 
by Swami Satyanand Piiri. In Malaya, Bose's chief supporter was Budh 
Singh, known popularly as the 'Malayan Gandhi'. 

6 Members of the Shanghai Revolutionary Party — all Sikhs — had suc- 
ceeded in converting grarithis of Sikh regiments posted at Hong Kong. 
Three grarithis attached to a Sikh infantry battalion were deported to India 
early in 1941. 

In April 1941, Gyani Pritam Singh and Chanda Singh sent three Sikh 
agents into Malaya. These men were apprehended and sentenced to ten 
years' imprisonment by the Supreme Court of Kotah Baru. They were later 
released from Singapore by the Japanese. 

7 Mohan Singh (b.1909) of village Ugoke (Sialkot district), a Jat of 
Ghuman sub-caste, joined the army in 1927 as a common sepoy. 

8 Among the Sikh officers were Colonel Narinjan Singh Gill, Major 
Mahabir Singh Dhillon, Major Nripendra Singh Bhagat, Captain Gurbaksh 
Singh Dhillon, and Captain Thakar Singh. According to Ishar Singh 
Narula, later finance minister of the provisional government, more than 50 
per cent of the INA were Sikh; according to General Mohan Singh, only 
one-third — the remaining two-thirds being Pathans, Dogras, and Hindu 


Politics of Partition 

called on Field Marshal Count Terauchi at Saigon to rind out the 
precise role that the Japanese had in mind for the INA. He was 
told that Rash Bihari Bose had called a meeting in Tokyo, where 
the matter would be discussed. 

The Tokyo Conference 9 (28 March 1942) resolved that 'inde- 
pendence, complete and free from foreign domination and 
control of whatever nature, shall be the object of the movement. 1 
Another resolution stated that 'military action against India was 
to be taken only by INA together with such military, naval and 
air cooperation and assistance as may be requested from the 
Japanese authorities by the Council of Action of the Indian 
Independence League.' The prime minister of Japan, General 
Tojo, took personal interest in the deliberations of the confer- 
ence. The delegates agreed to meet again at Bangkok. (The 
choice of Thailand, an independent neutral country, as venue of 
the next conference was deliberate.) 

The Bangkok Conference (15 June 1942) was attended by 
representatives of Indian communities of Asian countries. Gen- 
eral Mohan Singh was accompanied by 30 officers. Represen- 
tatives of the Axis powers and the Thai foreign minister were 
also present. The conference reiterated the demand that the 
Japanese government make a firm declaration of its policy 
towards India. 

The Japanese government did not react favourably to the 
Bangkok resolutions. On the contrary, Colonel Iwaguro, who had 
succeeded Colonel Fujiwara as liaison officer, said quite bluntly 
that his government did not intend to make any more state- 
ments. Other things caused Mohan Singh to doubt the good faith 

Jats. (Author's interview with Ishar Singh Narula and General Mohan 
Singh, 24 June 1962.) 

Narinjan Singh (b. 1906), ajat of the Gill sub-caste from village Majitha 
(district Amritsar), was educated at Sandhurst and received the King's 
Commission in 1925. After the events narrated in the text, Gill was ap- 
pointed Indian ambassador to Ethiopia (1955) and then to Thailand. 

9 The conference had an inauspicious beginning. The plane carrying 
Swami Satyanand Puri and Gyani Pritam Singh crashed, and all its 
passengers were killed. 

Sikhs and World War II 


of the Japanese: they censored INA's radio broadcasts; their 
treatment of Indian prisoners had become harsh; despite prom- 
ises to the contrary, they had taken over Indian evacuee property 
in Burma; the Japanese commander of Singapore assumed 
direct control of INA personnel; and attempts were made to 
'nipponize' the 1st Division of the INA Mohan Singh's relations 
with the too-nipponized Rash Bihari Bose cooled. The Council 
of Action again submitted a memorandum to Colonel Iwaguro 
demanding official recognition of the Indian Independence 
League, the Council of Action, the INA, and an unequivocal 
statement on Japanese policy towards India. Iwaguro lost pa- 
tience. 'When work is to be done, there is no time to think of legal 
quibbles/ he retorted. 

Mistrust grew on either side. The Japanese had reason to 
suspect some of Mohan Singh's colleagues, particularly Narinj an 
Singh Gill, who had been put in charge of Burma. The climax 
came in December 1942, when Gill was arrested. Mohan Singh 
dissolved the INA and resigned. He too was put under arrest. 10 
With the disappearance of these men, Sikh enthusiasm for the 
INA waned. 

Rash Bihari Bose tried to reconstitute the INA; but the spirit 
had gone out of the men. He retired from the scene in June 1943, 
when Subhas Chandra Bose arrived from Germany. Subhas took 
over the presidency of the Indian Independence League and 
became supreme commander of the INA. 

Subhas Bose 11 held a rally at Singapore, where he announced 
the establishment of the Provisional Government of Azad Hind 

10 After two months of detention in a bungalow, the general was taken 
to an Island where he was kept till December 1943 and then sent to 
Sumatra, where the British rearrested him. He was brought to Delhi in 
November 1945 and released unconditional!} in May 1946. In 1962 he was 
elected member of the Rajya Sabha. 

11 Subhas Chandra Bose (1897-1945) was born in Cuttack in Orissa. 
After graduating from Calcutta University, he took a tripos from Cam- 
bridge and entered the Indian Civil Service. He resigned the service on 
his return to India and joined the Civil Disobedience Movement under 
Mahatma Gandhi. He was elected president of the National Congress in 
1938 and again in 1939 against Mahatma Gandhi's wishes. He disagreed 


Politics of Partition 

(Free India), consisting of himself as the head of state with four 
ministers and eight representatives of the armed forces. 12 The 
Provisional government of Azad Hind was recognized by the 
Axis powers and their satellites. It declared war on Britain and 
the United States of America. 

As the tide of war turned, the Japanese became more co- 
operative with Subhas Bose's INA than they had been with 
Mohan Singh's. Netaji (beloved leader), the title by which 
Subhas came to be addressed, was treated with marked distinc- 
tion when he arrived in Tokyo in November 1943 to attend the 
Great East Asia Nations Conference. The Andamans and the 
Nicobar Islands were transferred to the Azad Hind Government. 

Subhas Bose moved his headquarters to Rangoon, and the 
INA was sent to the Burma-India front. Early in February 1944 
it fought the British forces and succeeded in forcing its way into 
Indian territory. There was great jubilation at Netaji's headquar- 

For the next two months, the INA kept up its offensive on the 
Arrakan front aimed at the capture of Imphal. By May the 
offensive had slowed to a standstill. And by the time the 
monsoons broke, the British had wrested the initiative, and the 
INA was on the retreat. It was badly fed, ill-equipped, and 
outnumbered. The Japanese did not provide it with heavy armour, 
artillery, or air support. Of the force of 6000 that had set out to 
capture Imphal, over 1500 either deserted to the British or 
surrendered without a fight; only 400 fell in battle; 1500 more 
died of disease or starvation. The majority of those who returned 
to base had to be hospitalized. 

The poor performance of the INA was a great disappointment 
for Netaji, but he did not give up hope. By the time the monsoon 

with the Mahatma's pacifism and formed the Forward Bloc of radicals. 
He was arrested in July 1940. He escaped from house arrest and made 
his way to Germany by the overland route. For an excellent biography, see 
The Springing Tiger by Hugh Toye. 

12 In the Provisional government two officers, Nripendra Singh Bhagat 
and Lieutenant Colonel Gulzara Singh, and one civilian, Ishar Singh Narula 
of Bangkok, were Sikhs. 

Sikhs and World War II 


was over, he had another two brigades trained for battle. In 
Januai ; 1945, the INA fought its second round with the British 
14th Army on the Irrawady. The performance of the second INA 
force was poorer than that of the first. Desertions and surrenders 
depleted its number. By the middle of May, the 'heroic' epic of 
the INA came to an inglorious end. 

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose retreated from Rangoon to 
Singapore and from Singapore to Bangkok. On 18 August 1945, 
the plane carrying him to Tokyo crashed in flames, ending his 
flamboyant career. 

Cripps Mission, March-April, 1942 

While Japanese armies were storming across Asia, the political 
barometer in India continued to register 'no change'. The 
viceroy freed the Congress leaders but failed to win their hearts. 
Even in the spring of 1942 when Japanese and INA brigades 
were poised on the Indo-Burmese border and Japanese planes 
dropped bombs on Calcutta and Madras, neither the Congress 
nor the Muslim League realized the peril to the country. The 
British government did; it sent out Sir Stafford Cripps, who was 
much admired in India, to persuade the Indians to co-operate. 

Master Tara Singh, Baldev Singh, 13 Sir Jogendra Singh and 
Ujjal Singh were chosen to represent the Sikh community. An 
All Parties Sikh Conference was convened in Delhi (26 March) 
to brief the representatives. Sir Stafford's draft of proposals had 
already been circulated. It contained an undertaking on behalf 

13 Baldev Singh (1902-61), ajat of Chokar sub-caste of village Dumana 
(district Ambala), was the son of a wealthy steel magnate. He made his 
debut in Sikh politics in 1937, when he was elected to the Punjab Assembly. 
He financed many ventures of the Akali party, including the Sikh National 
College at Lahore. In June 1942 he entered into an agreement known as 
the 'Sikander-Baldev Pact' with the Unionists, whereby the Akalis called 
off their agitation against Sikander Hayat's government. One of the terms 
of the agreement provided his replacing Dasaunda Singh in the Punjab 
Cabinet. Baldev Singh was the Sikh representative in the negotiations for 
the transfer of power and became the first defence minister of Nehru's 
government. He remained at the helm of Sikh affairs till 1957, when he 
was replaced by Swaran Singh. 


Politics of Partition 

of his government that as soon as the war was over a body of 
elected Indians would be invited to frame a new constitution for 
India. There was provision that if any province wished to opt out 
of the Indian Union it could do so. The Congress party declined 
to accept the offer on the issue of the apportionment of control 
of the Defence Department. Mr Jinnah rejected it because, 
according to him, Pakistan was not conceded. 

Sikh spokesmen, on the other hand, construed the proposals 
as conceding Pakistan. 14 In their note they stated that the cause 
of the Sikh community had been lamentably betrayed 'by the 
provision for separation of provinces and the constitution of 
Pakistan/ The note continued: 'We have lost all hope of receiving 
any consideration. We shall, however, resist by all possible 
means separation of the Punjab from an all India Union.' 15 

The Sikhs began to pin their faith in the Congress because 
Congressites ranging from Mahatma Gandhi down to the hum- 
blest volunteer had sworn that they would never suffer the 
dismemberment of the country. A few days after Sir Stafford 
Cripps' departure, Sikh faith was rudely shaken. A group of 
members of the Madras Legislative Assembly belonging to the 
Congress party passed a resolution that the Muslim claim for 
a separate state should be conceded. The leader of this group 
was C. Rajagopalachari, one of the most respected elders of the 
organization who also enjoyed the confidence of Gandhi. The 
working committee of the Congress disapproved of the resolu- 
tion and compelled Rajagopalachari to resign. The wedge had 
however been driven; it only needed hammering by the Muslim 
League to split the unity of India. 

The National Congress climaxed its obduracy by launching 
in August 1942 a campaign to force the English to 'Quit India'. 
Mahatma Gandhi and all leading Congressmen were arrested; 
the Congress party was declared illegal. Attempts were made 
in eastern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to pull up rail lines in order 

14 At a press conference (29 March), Sir Stafford was asked whether 
the proviso enabling a province to opt out of the Indian Union meant that 
Pakistan had been conceded; his reply was a categorical 'no'. 

15 Master Tara Singh's letter to Sir Stafford Cripps, 31 March 1942. 

Sikhs and World War II 


to sever communications with the eastern front. The government 
had little difficulty in suppressing the movement. The Punjab 
remained peaceful; the arrests of Congressmen went practically 
unnoticed. The viceroy turned to other parties willing to collabo- 
rate in the war effort. The ban on the Communist party was lifted. 
An overwhelming majority of Punjabi Communists were Sikhs. 
They took over a large building in Lahore, and began to publish 
propaganda literature in many languages, including Gurmukhi. 
Their weekly jahg-i-azadi (war for freedom) and pamphlets 
supported the Muslim demand for Pakistan. 

The Muslim League had the field to itself. The last obstacle 
to Mr Jinnah's ambition of unquestioned leadership of the 
Muslims was removed by the death of Sir Sikander Hayat Khan 
(December 1942). In the summer of 1943 yet another blow was 
struck for Pakistan when the Muslim League succeeded in 
forming a ministry in the North West Frontier Province. 16 Only 
in the Punjab, Sir Khizr Hayat Khan Tiwana (who succeeded 
Sir Sikander Hayat) (qualified his subscription to the aims of 
the Muslim League by adhering to the notion of a united Punjab. 
Mr Jinnah brought the full pressure of his organization to bear 
on the Unionists. He came to Lahore and demanded that Khizr 
Hayat Khan abandon the title 'Unionist' and describe his gov- 
ernment as a 'Muslim League coalition*. Khizr refused. His 
Muslim following began to dwindle till the ministry was reduced 
to relying on the support of a handful of Unionists backed by 
Congressites and Akalis. 

Meanwhile C. Rajagopalachari drove the Pakistani wedge 
further into the heart of United India. On 10 July 1944, he 
published his famous 'formula' by which, if the Muslim League 
supported the demand for immediate independence, a commis- 
sion would be appointed to demarcate those contiguous districts 
in the north-west and north-east of India where Muslims were in 
an absolute majority; in those areas a plebiscite would (Jeter- 
mine whether the people wanted a separate state or to remain 
in India. It was claimed by Rajagopalachari that Mahatma 

16 The Congress party ousted the League on 12 March 1945, but its 
position was never secure. 


Politics of Partition 

Gandhi (released in May 1944) agreed with him. Considering 
the position occupied by these two men in Congress circles, the 
Sikhs assumed that Congress had conceded Pakistan. 

The Sikhs reacted violently to the Rajagopalachari-Gandhi 
acquiescence. At a meeting (20 August 1944) at Amritsar 
attended by leaders of all Sikh parties, speeches were made 
strongly criticizing Mahatma Gandhi's leadership ('Let us give 
up now the practice of looking up to Mr Gandhi for the protection 
of our interests' — Gyani Kartar Singh). 17 Master Tara Singh 
stated for the first time that the Sikhs were a separate nation. 18 
Nevertheless, a resolution demanding 'a Sikh independent sover- 
eign state' was rejected as an impossible demand'. Ujjal Singh 
and Gyani Kartar Singh said explicitly that the 'Azad Punjab' 
scheme was only a counterblast to Pakistan. Master Tara Singh 
was empowered to organize Sikh opposition to the division of the 
Punjab and September 3rd was fixed as 'protest day'. 19 Tara 

17 Tf Pakistan is foisted upon the Sikhs with the help of British bayonets, 
we will tear it into shreds as Guru Gobind Singh tore up the Mughal Empire.* 
Gyani Kartar Singh, Civil and Militaiy Gazette, 21 August 1944. 

Gyani Kartar Singh (b. 1905), a Dhillon Jat born in village Nagoke 
(Amritsar) but settled in Chak 40 (Lyallpur) , joined the Akali movement 
at the age of 19. He was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1937; and 
president of the Akali Dal in 1946. He was considered the brains behind 
the Akali party and the propounder of the Akali concept of the Sikh state. 
He was a close collaborator of Master Tara Singh — and often his bitterest 
opponent. After independence, the Gyani was often a member of the Punjab 
government. There will be frequent references to him in the text. 

18 'Azad Punjab' had, however, been mentioned earlier in Akali 
conferences in September 1942 and March 1943. Master Tara Singh, 
addressing a conference of the Akali Dal in June 1943, said: Tn the Azad 
Punjab the boundaries should be fixed after' taking into consideration the 
population, property, and revenue and historical traditions of each of the 
communities — If the new demarcations are effected on the above 
principles then the Azad Punjab comprises of Ambala, Jullundur, Lahore 
divisions and out of Multan division lyallpur district, some portion of 
Montgomery and Multan districts.' Indian Annual Register, 1943, Vol. 1, 
p. 298. 

19 Civil and Military Gazette, 21 August 1944. Protest Day was marked 
by closure of business, processions and meetings where resolutions con- 
demning the Pakistan demand were passed. 

Sikhs and World War II 


Singh appointed a subcommittee to create effective liaison with 
other Sikh groups to form a united front. 20 

End of War 

On 7 May 1945, Nazi Germany laid down arms. The Japanese 
were retreating on all fronts. The Government of India felt the 
time had come to make another attempt to win over Indian 
politicians to its side. Congress leaders were released. Lord 
Wavell, who had taken over as viceroy, invited twenty-one Indian 
leaders, including Master Tara Singh, to meet him. The Cripps 
proposals were renewed in case it was found that they facilitated 
a long-term solution, but the immediate plan was to form a new 
Executive Council composed (except for the viceroy and the 
commander-in-chief) entirely of Indians — external affairs relat- 
ing to British India to be handled in future by an Indian. 

The leaders met at Simla in the last week of June 1945, but 
the conference broke down on the insistence of Jinnah that 
Leaguers only should represent Indian Muslims on the Executive 
Council — a claim which was untenable. 

Jinnah' s stand at Simla convinced many Congress leaders of 
the futility of trying to collaborate with the Muslim League. 
Nevertheless some of them recognized that Muslim Leaguers 
would have to be given the right to secede if they so desired, 
'provided they did not drag others who did not want to do so/ 21 
In other words, if this were conceded, the Punjab (and Bengal) 
would have to be divided; the carving knife was firmly placed on 
the Sikhs 1 jugular vein. 

20 Sir Tej Bahadur Sapru and Mr Jayakar made yet another attempt 
to solve the communal issue. Since the Muslims reiiised to co-operate, the 
Sapru Committee's labours were of little practical importance. A memo- 
randum of the Sikh case was prepared by Ujjal Singh, and a delegation 
consisting of Master Tara Singh, Sampuran Singh, Gyani Kartar Singh, 
Ishar Singh Majhail, and Udham Singh Nagoke argued the Sikh case. 

21 Jawaharlal Nehru at a press conference on 29 August 1945. Tribune, 
30 August 1945. 

16, Prelude to the Partition of India 

General Elections of 1945-6 

HP 1 he elections of the winter of 1945-6 were the most momen- 

X tous in the history of India, The socialist government of 
England was determined to give India independence and was 
eager to find a body of men to whom power could be transferred. 
Members of the existing legislatures did not qualify for this role 
as they did not reflect the views of the people on the vital issue 
of whether India was to remain united or divided: the central 
assembly had been elected in 1934, the provincial legislatures 
in 1936. Consequently, the British government decided to have 
fresh elections and from the men returned form a Constituent 
Assembly to frame a constitution for free India. 

The Congress party sensed the importance of this election 
and made an all out bid to persuade the electorate to vote for 
a free and united India. It was confident of winning the non- 
Muslim vote; but did not want to take any chances. It knew 
that the 'feats' of the INA had excited the imagination of the 
people. Consequently, Mr Nehru, despite his earlier differences 
with Subhas Chandra Bose and his reservations regarding 
collaboration with fascist powers, acclaimed men of the INA as 
fighters for freedom. 1 The government unwittingly played into 

1 'I was of the opinion three years ago and am still of the opinion that 
the leader and others of this army had been misguided in many ways and 
had failed to appreciate the larger consequences of their informal asso- 
ciation with the Japanese.' Jawaharlal Nehru, Statesman, 20 August 1945. 

Prelude to the Partition of India 


the hands of the nationalists by charging with treason three 
officers — a Hindu, a Muslim, and a Sikh — and trying them in the 
historic Red Fort of Delhi, the hub of the Indian Mutiny of 1857. 
Nehru personally organized the defence and, after the officers 
were acquitted, arranged for them to tour the country. Wherever 
they went they were greeted by mammoth crowds shouting 
the INA's war cries — \Jai Hind' (Victory to India) and "Delhi cald 
(onward to Delhi). Elections followed a few weeks later. 

Although the Congress party w T on a spectacular victory at the 
polls, it failed to dislodge the Muslim League's hold on the Mus- 
lim masses. The League went to the polls on the issue of Pakistan 
and won every single Muslim seat in the Central Legislature. Even 
in the provinces (except in the North West Frontier Province) it 
carried 90 per cent of the Muslim electorate with it. The position 
could be summarized simply: the non-Muslims wanted a united 
India; Muslims wanted India to be divided to make Pakistan. 

The Sikhs had gone to the polls to register their opposition 
to Pakistan. A Pahthic Pratinidhi board representing all parties 
save the Communists was constituted to fight the elections. The 
Panthic party carried the Sikh electorate with it." Communists, 
who were the only Sikh group supporting Pakistan, were com- 
pletely eliminated. 

Lord Wavell did not mince his words in describing the INA as a body 
of renegades who had proved false to their oath. ' Whatever your political 
views, if you cannot acclaim the man who prefers his honour to his ease, 
who remains steadfast in adversity to his pledged faith, then you have a 
poor notion of the character which is required to build up a nation. I say 
to you that amongst all the exploits of the last five or six years for which 
the wor ld rightly extols the Indian soldier, the endurance of those men in 
captivity and hardship stands as high as any. As a proof of what they 
endured as the price of their loyalty to their ideals of a soldier's duty, I 
will tell you this: the 45,000 Indian prisoners of war who stood firm are 
estimated to have lost about 1 1 ,000 or one quarter of their numbers from 
disease, starvation and murder; the 20,000 who went to our enemy's side 
lost only 1500 or 7V2 per cent.' Lord Wavell, Statesman, 11 December 1945. 

2 The elected men formed a Panthic party in the Punjab Assembly. 
Baldev Singh (development minister) was elected leader; Ujjal Singh and 
Swaran Singh, deputy leaders, and Ajit Singh, secretary. 


Politics of Partition 

The situation that emerged in the Punjab was as follows: out 
of a total of 175 seats, the Muslim League secured 79, the 
Congress 51, Panthic candidates 22, Unionists and Indepen- 
dents 10 each (there were by-elections in the remaining three). 
Negotiations between the Muslim League, the Congress, and the 
Panthic Sikhs failed chiefly on the issue of Pakistan. Ultimately, 
Sir Khizr Hayat Khan re-formed the government with Congress 
and Panthic support. 

Cabinet Mission 

In the spring of 1946, Mr Attlee, the Labour prime minister, 
announced that a team of cabinet ministers would visit India to 
discuss the next step towards Indian independence. In a debate 
on the subject a month later, he stated: 'We are mindful of the 
rights of minorities and the minorities should be able to live free 
from fear. On the other hand, we cannot allow a minority to place 
their veto on the advance of the majority.' (Mr Jinnah's rejoinder 
to these words was that the Muslims of India were not a 'minor- 
ity' but a 'nation'.) Nine days after the announcement the Cabi- 
net Mission consisting of Lord Pethick-Lawrence, Sir Stafford 
Cripps, and A. V. Alexander arrived in New Delhi. With the 
Mission was Major Short, who had earned the reputation of being 
a friend and adviser of the Sikhs. 

The Cabinet Mission first interviewed Indian leaders and 
elicited their views on the sort of constitution they desired for 
India: the main purport was to ascertain their reactions to the 
Muslim demand for Pakistan. 3 The Sikhs 4 were represented by 

3 The Muslim League held a convention from the 7-9 April 1946 in 
Delhi, where speeches were made warning the people of what was in store 
for them if Pakistan was not conceded. The most outspoken orator was Sir 
Feroze Khan Noon. He said 'Neither the Hindus nor the British know yet 
how far we are prepared to go in order to achieve 1 Pakistan. We are on the 
threshold of a great tragedy. . . if the British force on us an akhahd (united) 
government, the destruction and havoc which Muslims will cause will put 
to shame the deeds of Halaku Khan and Chengiz Khan and the respon- 
sibility for this will be Britain's.* Ashraf, Cabinet Mission and After, pp. 32-4. 
Gyani Kartar Singh attended the convention as an observer. 

4 The Central Akali Dal (Baba Kharak Singh's group) presented a 

Prelude to the Partition of India 


Master Tara Singh, Gyani Kartar Singh, Harnam Singh (a 
lawyer from Lahore), and later by Baldev Singh, then develop- 
ment minister in the Punjab government. 

The Sikh delegation was united in its opposition to Pakistan. 
The delegates marshalled all the arguments they could to im- 
press the Cabinet Mission of the utter impossibility of the Sikhs 
either living in a Muslim state or having territory inhabited by 
them handed over to the Muslims. The Sikh spokesman, Master 
Tara Singh, said that he was for a united India; but if Pakistan 
was conceded, he was for a separate Sikh state with the right 
to federate either with India or Pakistan. Gyani Kartar Singh 
elaborated the latter alternative as a 'province of their [Sikhs'] 
own where they would be in a dominant, or almost dominant 
position'; this province would comprise the whole of Jullundur 
and Lahore divisions, together with Hissar, Karnal, and Simla 
districts of the Ambala division, and the districts of Montgomery 
and Lyallpur. Baldev Singh defined the Sikh state, Khalistan, in 
somewhat the same terms, as consisting of 'the Punjab exclud- 
ing Mult an and Rawalpindi divisions, with an approximate bound- 
ary along the Chenab, an area comprising the Ambala division, 
the Jullundur division and the Lahore division,' 5 

separate memorandum on behalf of their party. It drew attention to the 
faulty compilation of census figures which made the Muslims a majority 
community in the Punjab. It opposed the partition of the Punjab and 
reiterated the demands that had been made by the Chief Khalsa Diwan 
many times since the introduction of democratic institutions, viz. 33 per 
cent representation in the Punjab, 5 per cent in the centre, one Sikh 
member in the central cabinet. In addition, it demanded an 8 per cent 
representation in the Constituent Assembly (as recommended by the 
Sapru Committee); a permanent 14 per cent Sikh quota in the defence 
services; Sikh representation in UP, Sindh, Bihar, Bengal, and Bombay, 
and an increase in Sikh representation in the North West Frontier Province. 
The Central Akali Dal supported joint electorates with reservation of seats 
for minorities and the setting up of special tribunals for the protection of 
minorities. Memorandum of the Central Akali Dal presented to the British 
Cabinet Mission, April 1946 by Amar Singh, working president. 

5 V. P. Menon, Transfer of Power in India, p. 242. On 22 March 1946, the 
Shiromani Akali Dal passed a resolution stating 'Sikhistan' to be its 


Politics of Partition 

The way the Sikh spokesmen worded their demand for a Sikh 
state — not as something inherently desirable, but simply as a 
point in an argument against Pakistan — robbed the suggestion 
of any chance of serious consideration. As a result, the Cabinet 
Mission took no notice of Sikhistan, Azad Punjab, or Khalistan 
and treated the idea, as well as the Sikhs' exaggerated claim 
to weight age, as something that had been put up (by the Indian 
National Congress) to thwart Muslim aspirations. 

After discussions with Indian leaders, the Cabinet Mission 
presented a tentative scheme for discussion at a conference at 
Simla in an effort to find a basis of agreement between the 
Congress and the League. The scheme envisaged a central 
government controlling defence, foreign affairs, and communi- 
cations, and two sets of provinces— one consisting of predomi- 
nantly Muslim, the other of predominantly non-Muslim areas — 
competent to deal with subjects not dealt with by the centre. The 
princely states were to negotiate with the centre. As the gulf 
between the two parties proved too wide to be bridged by- 
discussion, the Cabinet Mission issued a statement on 16 May 
setting forth proposals based on the widest area of agreement 
between the two main parties and which, they hoped, would 
constitute a basis on which Indians themselves might decide the 
future constitution of India. This took some account of the Sikh 
opposition to forcible inclusion in Pakistan. 6 It envisaged a three- 

political objective. It said: 'Whereas the Sikhs being attached to the Punjab 
by intimate bonds of holy shrines, property, language, traditions and history 
claim it as their homeland and holy land which the British took as a trust 
from the last Sikh ruler during his minority and whereas the entity of the 
Sikhs is being threatened on account of the persistent demand of Pakistan 
by the Muslims on the one hand and of danger of absorption by the Hindus 
on the other, the executive committee of the Shiromani Akali Dal demands 
the preservation and protection of the religious, cultural and economic and 
political rights of the Sikh population and their important sacred shrines 
and historical gurdwaras with provision for the transfer and exchange of 
population and property.' Tribune, 23 March 1946. 

6 'Nor can we see any justification,' the statement said, 'for including 
within a sovereign Pakistan those districts of the Punjab and of Bengal and 

Prelude to the Partition of India 


tiered constitution consisting of a union (empowered to deal with 
foreign affairs, defence and communications), of groups of 
provinces dealing with such subjects as may be delegated to 
them, and of individual provinces vested with residuary powers. 
The provinces could, if they desired after ten years, demand 
reconsideration of the constitution. 

The 16 May proposals further provided for a Constituent 
Assembly elected by members of the provincial legislatures to 
draft a constitution along the lines envisaged. After a formal 
plenary session, the Constituent Assembly was to break up into 
three sections — section A consisting of representatives of non- 
Muslim majority provinces; section B of representatives from 
the Punjab, the North West Frontier Province, and Sindh; and 
section C of representatives from Bengal and Assam. 

The Cabinet Mission suggested that, while the constitution 
was being drafted, the business of administration should be 
completely transferred to Indian hands. 

The new proposals were cautiously received by the Congress 
as well as the Muslim League, Jinnah accepted them in the hope 
that they would ultimately result in the establishment of an 
independent Muslim state. The Sikhs, however, rejected the 
proposals outright 7 and refused to be persuaded that with 

Assam in which the population is predominantly non-Muslim. Every 
argument that can be used in favour of Pakistan can equally, in our 
view, be used in favour of the exclusion of the non-Muslim areas from 
Pakistan. This point would particularly affect the position of the Sikhs — 
We ourselves are also convinced that any solution which involves a 
radical partition of the Punjab and Bengal, as this would do, would be 
contrary to the wishes and interests of a very large proportion of the 

inhabitants of these provinces Moreover, any division of the Punjab 

would of necessity divide the Sikhs, leaving substantial bodies of Sikhs 
on both sides of the boundary.' V. P. Menon, Transfer of Power in India, 
p. 468. 

7 Mahatma Gandhi, who had earlier lauded the scheme now supported 
the Sikhs. He wrote in his Harijaiv, 'Are the Sikhs for whom the Punjab 
is the only home in India, to consider themselves, against their will, as 
a part of the section which takes in Sind, Baluchistan and the Frontier 


Politics of Partition 

dexterous manoeuvring they could hold the balance of power in 
the Punjab. 8 

On 10 June a joint meeting of Sikh political parties was held 
in Amritsar. A 'Council of Action' was set up with Narinjan Singh 
Gill as 'dictator' 9 to direct Sikh opposition to the Cabinet pro- 
posals. When the viceroy announced the personnel of the interim 
government — his fourteen-man executive council — the Sikh 
nominee, Baldev Singh, was prevailed upon to turn down the 
invitation. Baldev Singh addressed Prime Minister Attlee on the 
injustice done to the Sikhs. Mr Attlee replied that the scheme 
could not be altered to suit the Sikhs 10 and that they should 

8 Sikh reactions to these proposals were voiced at a mass meeting held 
in Lahore (26 May) , where Britain was accused of betraying the Sikhs and 
presenting proposals 'designed to strengthen the hands of the British so 
that their hold may continue to last in India.' There was talk of launching 
a morca. 

Master Tara Singh wrote to the secretary of state for India of the 'wave 
of dejection, resentment and indignation' that had run throughout the Sikh 
community on account of the proposals. He continued: 'If the first consid- 
eration of the Cabinet Mission's recommendations is to give protection to 
Muslims, why should the same consideration be not shown for Sikhs?' 
(Tara Singh to secretary of state, 25 May 1946.) 

The secretary of state replied that 'the anxieties of the Sikhs were kept 
prominently in mind when we were drafting the Cabinet Mission's state- 
ment and I can certainly claim that of the various alternatives open to us 
the best one from the Sikh point of view was chosen. 

'You will, I am sure, admit that if India had been divided into two 
sovereign states or if the Punjab had been partitioned, either of these 
decisions would have been far less acceptable to the Sikhs than the one 
which was actually reached.' (Secretary of state to Tara Singh, 1 June 
1946.) From Master Tara Singh's personal files. 

9 Other members of the Council of Action included Master Tara Singh, 
Baldev Singh, Basant Singh Moga, Ujjal Singh, Inder Singh, Darshan Singh 
Pheruman, Ajit Singh, Pritam Singh Gojran, Ishar Singh Majhail, Bhai Jodh 
Singh, Sarmukh Singh Chamak, Nidhan Singh Alam (Namdhari) Gyani 
Kartar Singh, and Bawa Harkishan Singh. 

10 On 18 July 1946, Sir Stafford Cripps made a lengthy statement in the 
British Parliament on the Cabinet Mission's work in India. Regarding the 
Sikhs he said: 'It was a matter of great distress to us that the Sikhs should 
feel they had not received the treatment which they deserved as an impor- 
tant section. The difficulty arises, not from anyone's underestimation of the 

Prelude to the Partition of India 


safeguard their interests by electing representatives to the 
Constituent Assembly and collaborating in the drafting of the 

The Congress party's willingness to work out the Cabinet 
Mission's proposals was more apparent than real. Despite 
ratification by its working committee, Nehru, who had become 
president, admitted that, although the Congress had agreed to 
the scheme of 16 May, it was not likely to accept the grouping 
of provinces. He was more anxious to get on with the drafting 
of a new constitution but was not prepared to join the interim 
government on the basis suggested. Jinnah construed this as a 
rejection of the 16 May plan. He offered to form an interim 
government and, on the viceroy's unwillingness to invite him to 
do so, had the Muslim League reject the 16 May plan in tolo. The 
Muslim League called upon its members to express their 
resentment against the British government by renouncing their 
titles and drew up a plan for 'direct action.' 11 Direct action 
(dealt with in the next chapter) resulted in the outbreak of 
violence in different parts of the country. 

Reluctantly, the viceroy invited the Congress party to form a 
government in the hope that it would win over the League. The 
Congress failed to win over Jinnah but succeeded in persuading 
the Sikhs to give up their opposition. 12 On 2 September 1946, 

importance of the Sikh community, but from the inescapable geographical 
facts of the situation. What the Sikhs demand is some special treatment 
analogous to that given to the Muslims. The Sikhs, however, are a much 
smaller community, 5,500,000 against 90,000,000, and are not geographi- 
cally situated so that any area as yet desired . . . can be carved out in which 
they would find themselves in a majority/ Statesman, 19 July 1946. 

11 Jinnah indicated what he meant by 'direct action'. He said: '...This 

day we bid goodbye to constitutional methods Today we have also 

forged a pistol and are in a position to use it.' 16 August 1946, was to be 
celebrated as 'direct action day'. 

12 A meeting of the Panthic Board on 14 August 1946, decided to 
respond to the appeal of the Congress party to accept the statement of 16 
May. It did so but without giving up its strong reservations against the 
Mission's proposals. The Board advised Sikh members of the Punjab 
Assembly to elect representatives to the Constituent Assembly. 


Politics of Partition 

Mr Nehru's cabinet was sworn in. Baldev Singh took over the 
defence portfolio. 

A few weeks later, when Hindu-Muslim riots flared up, the 
League decided to join the government. It was reconstituted on 
26 October 1946. The viceroy redoubled his efforts to re- 
establish peace and enlarge the area of agreement between the 
major political parties. Leaders of the Congress, the League, 
and Baldev Singh were invited to London. The main object of 
this meeting was to obtain the co-operation of all parties in the 
Constituent Assembly, the League having indicated its unwilling- 
ness to participate. The issue in dispute was the interpretation 
of the clauses dealing with the grouping of provinces. The 
Congress felt unable to accept the Cabinet Mission's inter- 
pretation, which had been accepted by the Muslim League. A 
statement was therefore issued by the British government at the 
conclusion of the discussions stating that these clauses were an 
essential part of the scheme and expressing the hope that, 
should the Muslim League see its way to participate in the 
Constituent Assembly, it would agree, as had the Congress, to 
refer matters of interpretation to the Federal Court. When the 
Constituent Assembly met three days later it was without mem- 
bers of the League. These events increased the nervousness of 
minorities in the Takistan group' of provinces, and they began 
to organize themselves in Assam, Bengal, and the Punjab. The 
Sikhs asked for safeguards in the Punjab similar to those 
extended to Muslims in the Constituent Assembly, and they 
resolved to demand anew the partition of their province. 13 

13 Four Sikhs electeiiuo the Constituent Assembly, who at first had 
decided to keep away from its deliberations, agreed to take their seats 
after assurances from Congress leaders. On 17 January 1947, Gyani Kartar 
Singh and Ujjal Singh explained to pressmen that the right of veto which 
they were seeking would mean that 'nothing affecting the Sikhs should be 
decided upon without the consent of the Sikhs themselves.' Five days later, 
Gyani Kartar Singh, Ujjal Singh, and Harnam Singh met Lord Wavell and 
asked for the right to veto legislation affecting them in Section B of the 
proposed groups of provinces (Tribune, 23 January 1947). On 5 January 
1947, the Congress, at its session in Delhi, repeated the assurance of its 
support to minorities, particularly the Sikhs. 

Prelude to the Partition of India 


Meanwhile the Congress Working Committee had passed a 
resolution on 5 January 1947, agreeing to advise action in 
accoi dance with the British government's interpretation of the 
disputed clauses. The qualifying clauses of the remainder of the 
resolution led the Muslim League to conclude that Congress had 
no intention of implementing their so-called agreement. The 
Muslim League accused Congress of making the Constituent 
Assembly a 'rump' parliament and demanded its dissolution. 
The Congress, in view of the League's non-participation in the 
Constituent Assembly, demanded the resignation of the mem- 
bers of the Muslim League from the interim government. Lord 
Wavell warned the Indian leaders that civil strife had assumed 
such proportions that neither the police nor the army could be 
relied on to act impartially. 

In view of the impasse which had been reached, on 20 
February 1947, Attlee announced in Parliament that the British 
government would relinquish power in India by June 1948 at the 
latest; Lord Mountbatten would replace Lord Wavell as viceroy 
and arrange the transfer of power. Attlee hoped that the sense 
of urgency would engender responsibility and compel the rival 
parties to come to an understanding. 

While the political pourparlers were going on, inter-communal 
violence in India assumed the proportions of a civil war. We must 
retrace our steps to see how this came to pass. 

17. Civil Strife, Exodus, 
and Resettlement 

The Prelude 

In a poor and overpopulated country such as India, whose peo- 
ples are sharply divided by faith, cultures, and ways of living, 
tensions between groups are to be expected. In the north, from 
the days of the earliest Islamic invasion, communal tensions 
developed between invaders and their supporters on the one side 
and indigenous inhabitants on the other. Some enlightened rul- 
ers tried to minimize the differences, and a few, such as Ranjit 
Singh, temporarily succeeded. But most either imposed domi- 
nation of their own creed, or, like the British, dexterously ex- 
ploited differences to their own advantage. If the festival of Bakr 
Id, when Muslims chose to sacrifice cows instead of lambs or 
goats, passed without violent protest from cow-venerating Hin- 
dus or Sikhs, it was fortunate. And seldom did a noisy procession 
of Hindus or Sikhs deliberately routed to pass along mosques 
fail in its object of irritating Muslims and being pelted with 

The 1920s and 1930s were particularly bad decades of com- 
munal bitterness in the Punjab. The Arya Samaj Sudhi (conver- 
sion) movement was matched by the tanzlm of the Muslims. 
Sikh-Muslim relations were embittered by dispute over 
Shahidganj claimed by the Muslims to be a mosque and by the 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


Sikhs to be a gurdwara. Sikhs won their case and demolished 
remnants of the old mosque causing much heartbreak to the 
Muslims. Sikh insistence on wearing long kirpans further irri- 
tated the Muslims. These decades also witnessed the increase 
of communal militias, the Hindu RSSS, the Muslim Khaksars 
and the Sikh Dal. 

Communal violence was, understandably, more an urban than 
a rural phenomenon. Villages were predominantly one commu- 
nity or the other, the open countryside less corrosive than the 
cheek-by-jowl living of congested bazaars. Despite the tradition 
of distrust, village communities were able to coexist in peace 
and even to assume a facade of amity, often simulating kinship. 
But even the villagers' suspicions of each other's motives and 
intentions were never completely eradicated. In the clasp of a 
fraternal embrace often lurked the fear of the dagger. It was this 
kind of mentality which compelled Jinnah to posit his theory that 
Indians were not one nation but two: Muslims and non-Muslims. 
And it was this kind of thinking which came to obsess the minds 
of Indians in the 1940s. 

The communal riots of 1946-7 were in every way different 
from those that had taken place earlier. Up till then the riots 
had been minor affairs: an exchange of lathi-blows, a stab in 
the back, or a bottle of acid hurled from a balcony. Seldom, if 
ever, were firearms used. People were hurt, occasionally some- 
one succumbed to his injuries. Women were rarely molested; 
the aged and the children were always spared. The fracas (a 
stronger word would be too violent) were always followed by 
periods of contrition when solemn vows were taken never to hurt 
each other again. 

By contrast, what took place in 1946 and 1947 can only be 
described as a general massacre. No one was exempted on 
grounds of age or sex. In the past rioting had been the monopoly 
of the gunda (thug). The killings of 1946-7 were master- 
minded by politicians and executed by gangs drawn from all 
sections of society, armed with modern weapons such as sten- 
guns and hand-grenades. The explanation was invariably the 
same. The antagonists accused each other of starting the riot 


Politics of Partition 

and exonerated themselves by pleading that they had acted only 
in retaliation. 1 

The Sikhs were in a peculiar position in the Hindu-Muslim 
conflict. They professed a neutral creed but were a part of the 
Hindu social system. They were much the most prosperous 
section of the Punjab peasantry and, having been nurtured in 
a martial tradition, more ebullient than their numbers (13 
per cent in the Punjab) would warrant. The Sikhs often tried to 
play the role of peacemakers, but since their sympathies were 
manifestly Hindu, as the rioting increased in intensity,, the 
Muslims quite rightly began to look upon them as an aggressively 
anti-Muslim element. In any case the Muslims felt that if Paki- 
stan was to bring prosperity to their people, Sikhs who owned 
the best wheatlands of the Punjab would have to be dispos- 
sessed. Chaudhri Rahmat Ali, who first conceived Pakistan, 
stated this categorically: 

'Avoid minorityism, which means that we must not leave our 
minorities in Hindu lands, even if the British and the Hindus 
offer them the so-called constitutional safeguards. For no safe- 
guards can be substituted for the nationhood which is their 
birthright. Nor must we keep Hindu and/or Sikh minorities in 
our lands, even if they themselves were *willing to remain with 
or without any special safeguards. For they will never be of us. 
Indeed, while in ordinary times they will retard our national 

1 The future historian sifting the documents on the partition riots will 
be faced with a mass of contradictory statements. The only course is to 
peruse both the Hindu-Sikh and the Muslim literature on the subject and 
then consider 'neutral' English opinion. For the Hindu-Sikh point of view, 
see G. D. Khosla's Stern Reckoning (which is also the Government of India's 
version of the riots) and Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus in the 
Punjab 1947 published by the S.G.P.C. For the Muslim-Pakistani version, 
see Intelligence Reports Concerning the Tribal Repercussions on the Events in the 
Punjab, Kashmir and India, Note on the Sikh Plan, The Sikhs in Action and The 
RS.S.Sl For neutral opinion see Campbelljohnson's Mission with Mountbatten, 
Penderel Moon's Divide and Quit, Leonard Mosley's The Last Days of the 
British Raj, General Sir W. Francis Tuker's While Memory Serves, and Ian 
Stephens' Pakistan. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


reconstruction, in times of crisis they will betray us and bring 
about our redestruction.' 2 

It is not surprising that the Sikh attitude to Pakistan was one 
of uncompromising hostility. Since the vast majority of Muslims 
wanted Pakistan, Sikh opposition to the state was construed as 
animosity towards Muslims. 

'Direct Action Day' and its Sequel 

The first shot in the series of riots was fired on the 'direct action 
day' organized by the Muslim League in Calcutta on 16 August 
1946. The chief minister of Bengal, Suhrawardy, had declared 
it a public holiday, and a meeting of the Muslim League took 
place in the afternoon. Muslim crowds returning home clashed 
with the Hindus. For four or five days the ensuing violence 
brought life in the metropolis to a standstill. The official esti- 
mate of casualties in these few days was 5000 killed, 15,000 
injured, and 100,000 rendered homeless. 3 The riots continued 
intermittently for many months. 

2 Rahmat Ali, The Millat and its Mission; Muslim League Attack on Sikhs 
and Hindus, p. 8. 

The Muslim League made no attempt to reassure the Sikhs nor tried 
to win them over in support of Pakistan. On the contrary, Jinnah himself 
made it quite clear that Pakistan was to be a purely Muslim state. In a 
speech delivered in London in October 1946 in which he explained his 
claim for partition he said: 'What would Hindus lose? Look at the map. 
They would have the best parts. They have a population of nearly 200,000,000. 
Pakistan is certainly not the best part of India. We should have a population 
of 100,000,000 all Muslims. ' Muslim League Attack on Sikhs and Hindus, p. 

3 The British-owned Statesman of Calcutta put the blame for (the 
Calcutta killings squarely on the Muslim League. 'Where the primary 
blame lies is where we have squarely put it — upon the provincial Muslim 
League Cabinet which carries the responsibility for law and order in 
Bengal, and particularly upon the one able man of large administrative 
experience, the chief minister, Suhrawardy.' (This opinion was not as 
categorically repeated by the editor, Ian Stephens in his book Pakistan 
published in 1963, chapter vui.) The view is shared by other English writers: 
Penderel Moon, Divide and Quit, p. 58; Leonard Mosley, The Last Days of 


Politics of Partition 

In 1946 there were no more than 10-20,000 Sikhs in Cal- 
cutta — the majority of them taxi drivers or small businessmen. 
Although the Muslims regarded them as a militant wing of the 
Hindus and, as such, marked them out for destruction (many 
were killed in the first few days), the Sikhs of Calcutta suc- 
ceeded in winning the confidence of both Hindus and Muslims; 
they rescued the beleaguered of both communities and offered 
them asylum in their gurdwaras. Chief minister Suhrawardy 
issued a statement to the press completely exonerating the 
Sikhs of Calcutta of the charge of being anti-Muslim and 
complimenting them on the part they had played in rescuing 
Muslims. 4 

The killings of Calcutta were a signal for riots to break out in 
other parts of India, notably Bombay and Ahmedabad. The 
Muslim League now realized the hazards of allowing power to 
remain exclusively in the hands of the Congress and agreed to 
join the government. On 15 October 1946, the central cabinet 
was reconstituted with four Muslim Leaguers and one scheduled 
caste nominee of the League. This did not abate the violence; on 
the contrary, rioting broke out in east Bengal. The two districts 
chiefly affected, Noakhali and Tipperah, were predominantly 

the British Raj, p. 33; and even General Sir Francis Tuker, whose While 
Memory Serves is notoriously anti-Indian (p. 158). 

The Muslim League paper, Dazun, castigated the Statesman's 'diaboli- 
cally planned one-sided propaganda' and maintained that the Hindus 
launched a well-planned attack on peaceful Muslims. According to Damn, 
the casualties in the first week's killings were four Muslims to one Hindu. 
Liaqat Ali Khan, general secretary of the Muslim League (and later prime 
minister of Pakistan) issued a statement to the press on August 18 saying 
'The Hindu elements whose activities plunged Calcutta into the orgies of 
violence did so to discredit the Muslim League ministry.' He said that 
hospital records of admissions on the evening of 16 August showed that 
an overwhelming majority of the wounded and dead were Muslims. Jinnah 
also stated, 'We were attacked by the Congress followers because they 
wanted to stamp out our propaganda and discredit our cause by creating 
disturbance and then throwing the blame on us.' M. Ashraf, Cabinet Mission 
and After, p. 410. 

4 See Appendix 5. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


Muslim (81.35 per cent and 77.09 per cent); the victims were 
mainly Hindus. The news of the killing of Hindus triggered off 
rioting in distant cities; then it exploded with unprecedented fury 
in Bihar, where the Hindus vastly outnumbered the Muslims. 
Loss of Muslim life in Bihar was estimated at over 10,000. 
Equally fierce was a pogrom in Garhmukhteshwar, where several 
hundred Muslim peasants were massacred in a day. 

Few Sikhs were involved in the riots in Calcutta, east Bengal, 
Bihar, UP, or central India. The first time the Sikhs were drawn 
into the vortex of violence was in the winter of 1946-7 in Hazara 
(North West Frontier Province), where Muslims formed 95 per 
cent of the population. Muslims who had been inflamed by the 
slaughter of their co-religionists in Bihar wreaked their ven- 
geance on the Sikhs. Sikhs of the North West Frontier Province 
(as well as of the districts of Rawalpindi, Cambellpur and 
Multan, where the riots spread later) were pusillanimous Khatri 
and Arora shopkeepers with no pretensions to the militancy 
which distinguished their Jat co-religionists. In December 1946 
a large number of Sikh villages in the Hazara district were 
destroyed. Sikh refugees began to pour into central and eastern 
Punjab carrying with them evidence of murder, rape, abduction 
and forcible conversion. 

Prime Minister Attlee made personal appeals to Nehru and 
Jinnah to co-operate in restoring peace, to facilitate the setting 
up of the Constituent Assembly and a smooth transfer of power. 
Indian leaders, in their turn, appealed to the people to abstain 
from violence. The appeals fell on deaf ears. On the contrary, 
the announcement that Britain would soon relinquish power added 
fuel to the flames and rioting was resumed with greater frenzy. 

Civil Strife in the Punjab 

Till 1946 Khizr Hayat Khan (expelled from the Muslim League 
in June 1944) had been able to walk the razor's edge with a 
slender majority comprising Unionist Muslims and Hindus and 
Sikhs of other parties. But the Punjab government fought a losing 
battle against the mounting tide of communal passions and on 


Politics of Partition 

24 January 1947, passed an order banning private armies, 
including the Hindu RSSS and the Akali Dal, as well as the 
Muslim League's National Guards. The League seized the 
opportunity and organized a massive defiance of the order. After 
a few days the order was withdrawn and the Muslim leaders who 
had been seized for their defiance were released. It was an 
ignominious retreat ending in abject surrender. On 2 March 
1946, Khizr Hayat Khan submitted his government's resigna- 
tion. There were scenes of great excitement outside the Punjab 
Legislative Assembly building in Lahore. Master Tara Singh 
(not a member of the Assembly) unsheathed his kirpan before 
the assembled crowd and shouted, 'Death to Pakistan'. Two 
days later, a procession of Sikh and Hindu students parading 
the streets of Lahore clashed with a Muslim mob. News of the 
outbreak in the capital was a signal for rioting in Amritsar, 
Rawalpindi, Gujarat, Multan, and Cambellpur. 

The largest number of victims of the March riots were Sikhs. 
The murderous game of stealthily creeping up, quickly stabbing 
the victim, and running away could best be played against the 
easily identifiable Sikh rather than the Hindu or the Muslim, 
who, unless attired in his special dress, had to be stripped naked 
to see whether or not he was circumcised before his fate could 
be decided. The Sikhs took a terrible beating. 5 The March riots 

5 One of the worst cases of destruction was the Sikh village Kahuta in 
Rawalpindi district. Lord Mountbatten visited it with his party in April. His 
press officer records: Ticking our way through the rubble, we could see 
that the devastation was as thorough as any produced by fire-bomb raids 
in the war. This particular communal orgy involved the destruction of Sikhs 
and their livelihood by Moslems who were proving difficult to track down. 
The Moslems in the area seemed to be quite pleased with themselves.' 
Campbell Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, p. 79. 

On 6 March 1947, a deputation led by Ujjal Singh waited on the 
governor. Sir Evan Jenkins, and asked for the posting of military personnel 
in tows and cities for the protection of urbanite Hindus and Sikhs. Tribune, 
7 March 1947. 

On 12 April 1947, Bhim Sen Sachar and Swaran Singh asked for a 
division of the Punjab with two separate ministries — one for Muslim and 
the other for non-Muslim zones. Tribune, 13 April 1947. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


proved that their so-called armies — the Akali Dal, Akal Fauj, or 
Akal Sena — were paper organizations and their leaders paper 

The communal bent of the police was an important factor in 
the killings. Over 74 per cent of the Punjab force was Muslim. 6 
In addition to the regulars, there were 6000 men in the additional 
police force which had been raised in the early years of the war 
by Sikandar Hayat Khan. The additional police was armed, 
overwhelmingly Muslim, and suspected by non-Muslims as the 
nucleus of the army for Pakistan. 

The riots were a rude awakening to the Sikhs. The fear that 
their name had at one time aroused had evaporated; their talk 
of martial prowess was dismissed as the bombast of a decadent 
race. Humiliation steeled the hearts of the Sikhs against the 
Muslims; their mood was not one of compromise but of settling 
scores. The chief secretary's report described the Sikhs without 
4 a vestige of a wish to settle the communal problem without 
partition' and as 'organizing for strife'. The report continued: 

'Their plans embrace the whole community in the Punjab and 
it is said that they also involve the Sikh states. The Sikhs are 
being regimented, they are being armed, if they are not armed 
already and they are being inflamed by propaganda both oral 
and written. With deliberate purpose their hatred is being 
increased by the stories related to them by their co-religionists 
who have suffered at Muslim hands. The important question 
about the Sikhs is not if and when they intend to fight; it is 
whether if the Sikh leaders continue as they are doing, they will 
be able to hold their following in check and maintain their 
discipline.* 7 

On Baisakhi day (13 April 1947) Master Tara Singh and 280 
jathedars vowed at the Akal Takht to sacrifice their lives for the 
community. From then onwards, the Sikhs began to reorganize 
their defunct jathas in towns and villages, to arm them with 

6 The total police force in the Punjab was 24,095, of which 17,848 were 
Muslims, 6167 Hindus and Sikhs, and 80 Europeans or Anglo-Indians. 

7 Note on the Sikh Plan, pp. 7-8. 


Politics of Partition 

swords and, if possible, guns. 8 The number of Nihangs increased 
suddenly. Contacts were made with the RSSS and Sikh princely 
states; members of the INA were recruited to guard the Golden 
Temple and other historic gurdwaras. A drive was made to 
collect Rs 50 lacs for a defence fund. 9 

On 22 March 1947, Lord Mount batten took over as viceroy 
from Lord Wavell. His brief was to arrange the transfer of power 
from British to Indian hands as expeditiously as possible. He 
started by meeting leaders of the different parties and ascer- 
taining their views on the alternatives — united India or Pakistan. 
He consulted the governors of the provinces. Sir Evan Jenkins 
warned him that division of the Punjab on communal lines would 
be disastrous because in every district the Muslims, Hindus, and 
Sikhs were inextricably mixed. 

Public opinion in the country was, however, in favour of 
division. Sikh and Punjabi Hindu members of the Central 
Legislature, the Punjab Assembly, and the Constituent Assembly 
met in Delhi and passed a resolution demanding a 'just and 
equitable' division of the province on the basis of numbers and 
property. Akalis and Communists (who supported Pakistan) put 
forward the claim to a Sikh state, Khalistan. 

Lord Mountbatten returned to England to apprise his govern- 
ment of the Indian situation and to renew his brief. The British 

8 The chief figures in this 'Sikh Conspiracy,' as it has often been 
described, were Master Tara Singh, Gyani Kartar Singh (who took over 
as president of the Akali Dal on 16 April), Udham Singh Nagoke, Ishar 
Singh Majhail, Jathedar Mohan Singh, Sohan Singh Jalal Usman, Sarmukh 
Singh Chamak, Amar Singh Dosanjh, 'General' Mohan Singh, and Colonel 
N. S. Gill. In the initial stages Sikh bands were organized by Gyani Harbans 
Singh of Anandpur, who had been absconding on a charge of murder. (The 
Gyani was later apprehended and hanged.) 

The INA Sikhs set up their headquarters at Majitha House (the resi- 
dence of Surjit Singh Majithia) in Amritsar. Surjit Singh, son of Sunder 
Singh Majithia was later Indian ambassador to Nepal and then a member 
of Parliament (Congress) and deputy minister of defence. 

9 The Akalis did in fact raise 10-12 lacs. Baldev Singh was confronted 
by Lord Mountbatten in the presence of the Punjab governor and asked 
whether he was treasurer of the Sikh defence fund. He denied all knowl- 
edge of it. Campbell Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, p. 66. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


government agreed that if the Indians so desired, they should 
divide India. For the Punjab and Bengal, the procedure recom- 
mended was that their respective legislatures be divided into 
two groups: one representing Muslim majority districts, and the 
other the rest of the province. Each group would vote for or 
against partition. If any one group voted for partition, a commis- 
sion would be appointed to draw the line of demarcation. 

Lord Mountbatten came back to India and placed the plan 
for voting on partition before the Indian leaders. In an introduc- 
tory speech, he made special reference to the position of the 
Sikhs, whose future (according to Mountbatten) had been of the 
greatest concern to the members of the British Parliament. 10 
The viceroy affirmed that he had questioned Sikh leaders many 
times whether they really wanted a partition of the Punjab which 
would inevitably split their population into two and had been 
assured by every one of them that he would rather have the 
Punjab divided than live in Pakistan. 

The Congress and the Muslim League agreed to the proposals 
in principle. Baldev Singh's views had already been ascertained. 
All he had to add at this stage was that the Sikh position should 
be borne in mind in drafting the terms of reference of the 
Boundary Commission. 11 

10 The plight of the Sikhs aroused the sympathy of many British 
parliamentarians. On 1 5 July, R. A. Butler said in the House of Commons: 
'The British had the happiest possible relations with the Sikh community 
and, of all the martial races of the world, the Sikhs probably had built up 
the greatest reputation. The only situation which could mitigate the plight 
of the Sikhs was that the Boundary Commission should so define the 
boundary that the maximum portion of the Sikhs should be included within 
one conglomerate whole.' Tribune, 16 July 1947. 

1 1 Sikh leaders were in constant consultation with each other. The Akali 
Dal Working Committee met in Delhi on 2 June 1947. The meeting was 
attended by Gyani Kartar Singh (president), Master Tara Singh, Amar 
Singh Dosanjh, Pritam Singh Gojran, Mangal Singh Gill, Swaran Singh, 
Ujjal Singh, and Baldev Singh. Baldev Singh reported on his talks. The 
leaders resolved to press for a partition of the Punjab but to maintain the 
integrity of the community by demanding that the boundary be drawn at 
the Chenab. (Hindustan Times, 3 June 1947.) Similar meetings were 
convened at Lahore. 


Politics of Partition 

In his broadcast on the night of 3 June, the viceroy again spoke 
feelingly of the fate that awaited the Sikhs. 

4 We have given careful consideration to the position of the 
Sikhs. This valiant community form about an eighth of the 
population of the Punjab, but they are so distributed that any 
partition of this province will inevitably divide them. All of us who 
have the good of the Sikh community at heart are very sorry to 
think that the partition of the Punjab, which they themselves 
desire, cannot avoid splitting them to a greater or lesser extent. 
The exact degree of the split will be left to the Boundary 
Commission on which they will of course be represented.' 12 

At a press conference the following day he said: 

'There are two main parties to this plan — the Congress and 
the Muslim League — but another community much less numer- 
ous but of great importance — the Sikh community — have of 
course to be considered. I found that it was mainly at the request 
of the Sikh community that Congress had put forward the 
resolution on the partition of the Punjab, and you will remember 
that in the words of that resolution they wished the Punjab to be 
divided between predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim areas. 
It was therefore on that resolution, which the Sikhs themselves 
sponsored, that this division has been provided for. I was not 
aware of all the details when this suggestion was made but when 
I sent for the map and studied the distribution of the Sikh 
population under this proposal, I must say that I was astounded 
to find that the plan which they had produced divided their 
community into two almost equal parts. I have spent a great deal 
of time both out here and in England in seeing whether there was 
any solution which would keep the Sikh community more to- 
gether without departing from the broad and easily understood 
principle, the principle which was demanded on the one side and 
was conceded on the other. I am not a miracle worker and I have 
not found that solution.' 13 

12 Lord Mountbatten's broadcast at All India Radio, 3 June 1947. 

13 It cannot be too often repeated that the Sikhs chose the lesser of 
two evils — partition or Muslim domination. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


Lord Mountbatten was asked whether in drawing the bound- 
aries of provinces to be partitioned the basic factor would be 
religion or whether other considerations such as property and 
economic viability, would be included in the terms of reference. 
Mountbatten replied that it could hardly be expected that a 
Labour government would subscribe to partition on the principle 
of property. 14 

Any notion that the Sikh leaders might have had of pressing 
their case in terms of the land they owned or the revenue they 
paid should have been dispelled by this statement. But they 
persisted in holding to their cherished illusions. A few days later 
an All Parties Sikh Conference met in Lahore and passed a 
resolution that the Sikhs would not accept a boundary which did 
not preserve the solidarity and integrity of the community. 15 

The procedure for partitioning the Punjab (and Bengal) was 
put into effect straightaway. The Punjab Legislative Assembly 
was convened, and in the series of votings all Muslim members 
voted against while all Sikhs and Hindus voted for partition of 
the province. 16 

14 Campbell Johnson, Mission xirith Mountbatten, p. 109. 

15 The Sikh reaction to the plan and their temper can be gauged from 
the chief secretary's report: 'The partition plan envisaged divides their [the 

Sikhs] strength and leaves them in a minority in both areas They have 

therefore, been driven back on reiterating their demands and perfecting 
the organization of their forces. Their endeavour in both directions is 
positive in character. The Sikhs are pinning their hopes upon the Boundary 
Commission and the Congress, but their latest circular issued by the 
Shiromani Akali Dal shows that the confidence in the strength of the Panth 
has neither been undermined nor surrendered. The circular states that 
Pakistan means total death to the Sikh Panth and that the Sikhs are 
determined on a free sovereign state with the Chenab and the Jumna as 
its borders, and it calls on all Sikhs to fight for their ideal under the flag 
of the Dal/ Note on the Sikh Plan, p. 25. 

16 In the plenary meeting, 91 votes were cast for and 77 against joining 
a new Constituent Assembly. Then members from the Muslim majority 
areas of west Punjab voted by 69 to 27 against the partition of the province. 
And finally members from the non-Muslim districts of east Punjab voted 
in favour of partition by 50 for and 22 against. 


Politics of Partition 

Boundary Commissions were appointed with Sir Cyril Radcliffe 
as chairman. Each commission included four judges, two Mus- 
lims and two others. The Sikh member of the Punjab Commis- 
sion was Teja Singh, a judge of the Punjab High Court. The terms 
of reference of the commissions were to demarcate contiguous 
Muslim majority areas and in so doing to take into account 'other 

The Sikhs built their hopes of salvaging their shrines, homes, 
and lands in western Punjab on the commission taking into 
account 'other factors' besides the incidence of population. A 
memorandum signed by 32 Sikh members of the legislature was 
presented to the Punjab Boundary Commission. It drew attention 
to the inaccuracy of the census reports; the floating character 
of a sizeable section of the Muslim population (that is, nomadic 
tribes) ; the colonization and ownership of the richest lands in 
western Punjab by the Sikhs; the location of some of their 
important historical shrines. The memorandum demanded that 
the dividing line be drawn along the Chenab River which would, 
with some modifications, keep over 90 per cent of the Sikhs in 
a compact unit in eastern Punjab. 17 

Representations on behalf of the Muslims claimed not only 
the Lahore, Multan, and Rawalpindi divisions but also a number 
of tehsils in the Jullundur and Ambala divisions. 

The points of view of the Muslim and the non-Muslim judges 
on the location of the line of partition were completely at 
variance; the decision was in fact solely that of Sir Cyril Radcliffe. 
To east Punjab he gave 13 districts, viz. the districts of Ambala 
and Jullundur divisions, the district of Amritsar and some tehsils 
of Lahore and Gurdaspur. He also gave the upper reaches of the 
Sutlej, Beas, and Ravi to east Punjab. The rest, comprising of 
62 per cent of the total area of the province and 55 per cent of 
the population, was given to Pakistan. 

The Radcliffe award was as fair as it could be to the Muslims 
and the Hindus. The one community to which no boundary award 

17 The Sikh Memorandum to the Boundary Commission, July 1947. The 
Indian National Congress presented a separate memorandum to the 
Punjab Boundary Commission. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


could have done justice without doing injustice to others were the 
Sikhs. Their richest lands, over 150 historical shrines, and half 
of their population were left on the Pakistan side of the dividing 

While the Boundary Commission was holding its deliberations, 
law and order in the Punjab continued to deteriorate. Ever since 
the flare up in March, militant organizations had been busy 
recruiting and procuring weapons. While Muslims 18 got arms 
from the tribal areas of the North West Frontier Province and 

18 The Muslim League had begun to build up a stock of arms for use 
in riots as early as December 1946. A secret fund (secret sanduq) was 
raised and arms procured from the North West Frontier Province. This was 
proved in the enquiry against the Khan of Mamdot ordered by the Pakistan 
government in 1949. The following extract from the proceedings of the 
enquiry amply proves this contention: 

Answering questions by defence counsel in the Mamdot Enquiry, Chaudhri 
Mohammed Hassan, ex-MLA, affirmed that in October 1946 members of 
the working committee of the Punjab Provincial Muslim League and 
prominent Muslim League leaders met in a secret meeting at Mamdot 
Villa. Among those who attended were the Khan of Mamdot, Mian Abdul 
Ban, and the witness. 

The meeting was held at a time when communal riots in Calcutta and 
Bombay had not yet completely ended. It was decided at the meeting to 
raise secret funds to be called 'secret sanduq for the purchase of jeeps, 
trucks, iron jackets, arms and ammunition, and blankets. 

'Consequently,' witness continued, 'another secret meeting was called 
and the Khan of Mamdot directed Rana Nasrullah Khan to arrange for the 
purchase of one hundred iron jackets through his brother Rana Zafrullah 
Khan. At the same meeting Begum Shah Nawaz was asked to arrange for 
the purchase of hand grenades through her daughter, the late Miss Mumtaz 
Shah Nawaz. 

'Replying to further questions, witness deposed it was true that Sardar 
Rashid Ahmad and Mohammed Akbar Khan, who is the son-in-law of 
Begum Shah Nawaz, were also directed to purchase arms and ammunition 
from the Frontier Province and to bring them here for distribution — The 
respondent provided the requisite money with which seven thousand steel 
helmets were purchased directly from military stores.' Dawn, 22 October 

The nawab of Mamdot was able to prove that the money had in fact been 
spent in buying weapons and equipping Muslims with them. He was 
acquitted of the charge of misuse of funds. 


Politics of Partition 

Bahawalpur, Sikhs obtained them from the Sikh states, chiefly 
Patiala. Kapurthala, and Faridkot. The real buikkip of Sikh 
militarism was the formation of jathas in villages armed with the 
traditional kirpan and the spear. 19 It became obvious that as 
soon as the dividing line was drawn, the communities would be 
at war against each other and there would have to be an 
exchange of population. 20 A Partition Council was set up to 

19 On 14 June 1947, Lord Mount batten's press attache wrote: 'We are 
in the heart of Sikh country here, and the prevailing atmosphere is one of 
tension and foreboding . . . they [the Sikhs] see that the partition of India 
means substantially and irrevocably the partition of the Sikhs, and they feel 
themselves to be sacrificed on the altars of Muslim ambition and Hindu 
opportunism. . . . No juggling of the Boundary Commission can prevent their 
bisection. They react accordingly and their leaders hopelessly 
outmanoeuvred in the political struggle, begin to invoke more primitive 
methods.. .power is passing to the wilder men, such as Master Tara Singh 
and some of the younger INA officers. Rough weather lies ahead of us. ... ' 
Campbell Johnson, Mission xvith Mountbatten, p. 118. 

20 Sir Evan Jenkins' letter to Lord Mountbatten dated 10 July 1947, 
regarding his meeting with Gyani Kartar Singh is illuminating. 'The Gyani 
was extremely frank about the intentions of the Sikhs. What he said 
confirms my view that they mean to make trouble if the decision based on 
the Boundary Commission is not to their liking, or if the new governments 
of Pakistan and India are set up before the decision is given.' 

Sir Evan appended another note to the letter saying: 'Gyani Kartar Singh 
came to see me today — He said he had come to see me about the Indian 
Independence Bill and the Boundary Commission. ... He said that in the 
Punjab there would have to be an exchange of populations on a large scale. 
Were the British ready to enforce this? He doubted if they were, and if 
no regard was paid to Sikh solidarity a fight was inevitable. The British 
had said for years that they intended to protect the minorities and what 
had happened? The present situation was a clear breach of faith by the 

T replied that I realized that the Sikhs were dissatisfied, but when 
independence came to any country some classes, who had formerly 
regarded themselves as protected, inevitably suffered. At the same time, 
I thought that the Sikhs had only themselves to blame for their present 
position. The Gyani himself had insisted on partition and Baldev Singh had 
accepted the plan, 

'Gyani then said neither had viewed partition as being based on 
population alone. The Sikhs were entitled to their own land just as much 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


handle the problem. A Boundary Force under Major General 
Rees assisted by Brigadier Digambar Singh Brar (India) and 
Colonel Ayub Khan (later president of Pakistan) consisting of 
two and a half divisions was entrusted with the control of 
movements of populations in the districts of Sialkot, Lyallpur, 
Montgomery, Lahore, Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, 
Jullundur, Ferozepur, and Ludhiana. 

as the Hindus or the Muslims. They must have their shrine at Nankana 
Sahib, at least one canal system, and Finally arrangements must be made 
so as to bring at least three-quarters of the Sikh population from West to 
East Punjab. Property must be taken into account as well as population in 
the exchange as the Sikhs on the whole were better off than the Muslims. 
Gyani said that unless it was recognized by His Majesty's Government, the 
viceroy and the Party leaders that the fate of the Sikhs was a vital issue, 
there would be trouble .. .they would be obliged to fight... that the Sikhs 
realized that they would be in a bad position, but would have to fight on 
revolutionary lines by murdering officials, cutting railway lines, destroying 
canal headworks and so on, 'I reiterated that this would be a very foolish 
policy, to which Gyani replied that if Britain were invaded, no doubt my 

feelings would be much the same as his The Muslims were now putting 

out some conciliatory propaganda about their attitude towards the Sikhs 
in their midst, but their intention was that of a sportsman who is careful 
not to disturb the birds he means to shoot. He believed the Muslims would 
try to make the Sikhs of West Punjab feel secure and then set about them 
in earnest.' 

Sir Evan Jenkins ended his dispatch: * Finally the Gyani appealed to me 
to do all I could to help the Sikhs during a period of great trial He said 
I surely could not wish to abandon the Punjab to tears and bloodshed. There 
could be tears and bloodshed here if the boundary problem was not suitably 
solved. The Gyani was matter of fact and quiet throughout our conversation 
but wept when he made his final appeal. This is the nearest thing to an 
ultimatum yet given by the Sikhs. They are undoubtedly puzzled and 
unhappy. I see no reason to suppose that they have lost the nuisance value 
they have in the past possessed over a century.' 

On 1 3 July Jenkins wrote yet another letter to Mountbatten, reinforcing 
his warning of the dangers of the situation. 'The communal feeling is now 
unbelievably bad,' he said. 'The Sikhs believe that they will be expropriated 
and massacred in West Punjab and smothered by the Hindus and Con- 
gress generally in East Punjab. They threaten a violent rising immediately.' 
Leonard Mosley, Hie I^ast Days of the British Raj, pp. 205-7. 


Politics of Partition 

On 15 August 1947, as India celebrated its independence, 
nearly ten million Punjabis were at each other's throats. In east 
Punjab, the Muslim police were disbanded and the Muslims left 
to the mercy of marauding bands of Sikhs and RSSS militia. 
Sikh violence attained its peak in September 1947. 21 General 
Rees of the Boundary Force reported: 

'Jathas were of various kinds in strength from twenty to thirty 
men up to five or six hundred or more. When an expedition was 
of limited scope the jathds did not usually increase beyond the 
numbers which had originally set out; but if the projected opera- 
tion was to attack a village, a convoy or a train, the local villagers 
would join and swell the assailants to several thousands. They 
had recognized leaders, headquarters which constantly shifted 
about, and messengers who travelled on foot, on horseback and 
even by motor transport. The usual method of attack, apart from 
assaults on villages, was from ambush. Information as to the 
movement of convoys or trains was relatively easy to obtain. As 
the crops were high, it was simple to ambush marching columns 
of refugees. The attackers would remain concealed until the last 
moment and then would pour in a stampeding volley, usually in 
the northwest frontier fashion, from the opposite side from 
where the shock assailants lay in wait. In spite of the best efforts 
of the escorts to hold them together, the refugees would scatter 
in panic, whereupon the ambush parties would dash in with 
sword and spear. With attackers and attacked inextricably mixed, 
the escort was usually unable to protect its charges.' 22 

On both the Indian and Pakistan sides horrible atrocities 
were committed. Foot-weary convoys of refugees were attacked 
till the roads were clogged with corpses; trains were attacked 
and sent across the borders with bogies jammed with slaugh- 
tered passengers. No quarter was given to the sick or the aged 

21 'Mountbatten asked about Sikh motives. Was the object to set up a 
Sikh State? V. P. [Menon] replied no. Politically they had lost out, and had 
not even gained the Jullundur division. Their motive was almost entirely 
revenge.' 15 September 1917. Campbell Johnson, Mission with Mountbatten, 
p. 191. 

22 Lt. Col. G. R. Stevens, History of the 4th Indian Division. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


or even to infants. Young women were occasionally spared only 
to be ravished. Never in the history of the world was there a 
bigger exchange of populations attended with so much blood- 
shed. 543 

Then the monsoon burst in all its fury: rivers rose; roads were 
submerged; bridges collapsed; rail tracks were washed away. 
In reiugee camps cholera broke out. The floods wiped the 
bloodstains off the face of the land. 

The Exodus and Resettlement in East Punjab 

In the winter of 1946-7 Sikh refugees from the North West 
Frontier Province had started trekking to the central districts of 
the Punjab. The second round of violence in March 1947 showed 
that, even in cities such as Lahore and Amritsar, the Muslim 
thug could get the better of the Hindu or Sikh hoodlum. The 
refugees resumed their trek south-eastwards into districts where 
a preponderance of their coreligionists gave them a sense of 

In August when rioting assumed the proportion of civil war, 
people again packed up their belongings and awaited directions 
from their leaders for the next move. Master Tara Singh and 
Gyani Kartar Singh (both authors of the partition plan) first 
exhorted the Sikhs in western Punjab to stay where they were and 
make their terms with Pakistan. Mahatma Gandhi made similar 
appeals to the Muslims of eastern Punjab to stay on in India. But 
the wave of hatred that swept the province compelled the Hindus 
and Sikhs in Pakistan to leave for India and Muslims in eastern 
Punjab to seek asylum in Pakistan; the two-way traffic assumed 

23 There are various estimates of the number of people killed in the 
Punjab during these riots. Penderel Moon, who claims to have had a 'pretty 
accurate knowledge of the casualties' in Bahawalpur and adjacent Paki- 
stani districts and who compared notes with Sir Francis Mudie, governor 
of west Punjab, came to the conclusion that it was 60,000 dead in Pakistan 
and a little more in east Punjab. He qualified his first computation of a 
total of 200,000 dead on both sides as 'somewhat inflated'. Penderel Moon, 
Divide and Quit, p. 203. 


Politics of Partition 

mammoth proportions. 24 A Military Evacuation Organization 
(MEO) was set up in the first week of September. There were 
four main routes from Pakistan Punjab to Indian Punjab: Narowal- 
Dera Baba Nanak, Lahore-Amritsar, Kasur-Ferozepur and Mont- 
gomery-Fazilka. The MEO and the Boundary Force tried to 
minimize collisions between the convoys moving in opposite 
directions and to fight off gangs which preyed on them. The 
Indian government organized camps for non-Muslim refugees, 
the biggest one being at Kurukshetra. In October 1947, the 
refugee population from west Punjab in Indian camps was well 
over 720,000. 

The new governments were not sure of the exact nature of the 
problem. Was the migration permanent? Or would the people 
return to their ancestral homes? Even with this uncertainty In- 
dian authorities showed commendable expedition in tackling 
the task of rehabilitation. A Resettlement Department with a 
staff of nearly 8000 patwaris and rural officers was established 
at Jullundur. Two young Sikh civilians, Tarlok Singh and M. S. 
Randhawa, were appointed to tackle the problem. Tarlok Singh 
drew up a Land Resettlement Manual which outlined the policy 
to be followed. The government took over the houses and lands 
of Muslim evacuees. Hindu and Sikh peasant refugees crossing 
the frontier as well as those in refugee camps were directed to 
specified towns and villages. Each family, irrespective of what 
is left behind in Pakistan, was temporarily allotted a 'plough unit' 
of ten acres of land and given loans to buy seed and agricultural 

By the time the winter harvest had been garnered it be- 
came apparent that the migration was in fact a permanent 
transfer of population. The temporary allotments had to be 

24 Sir Francis Mudie, governor of west Punjab (Pakistan), wrote to 
Jinnah on 5 September 1947, regarding the desirability of evicting Sikh 
colonists from Lyallpur: 'I am telling everyone that I don't care how the 
Sikhs get across the border; the great thing is to get rid of them as soon 
as possible. There is still little sign of three lakh Sikhs in Lyallpur moving, 
but in the end they too will have to go.' G. D. Khosla, Stem Reckoning, 
pp. 314-16; Muslim League Attack an Sikhs and Hindus, p. 138. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


made permanent and the refugees compensated out of what the 
Muslims had left behind. This was not easy as not only was the 
number of Hindus and Sikhs who had come out of west Punjab 
and the North West Frontier Province somewhat larger than 
the number of Muslims who had left east Punjab (4,351,477 
against 4,286,755), but there was also a considerable differ- 
ence, both quantitative and qualitative, in the land left behind 
by the Muslims: the Hindus and Sikhs had left behind 67 lac 
acres of the very best agricultural land; the Muslims of east 
Punjab left behind only 47 lac acres of comparatively poor soil. 
Added to the complications was the fact that in districts such 
as Karnal, Muslim-owned land was in the possession of Hindu 
tenants, who were naturally reluctant to let refugees take over 

Tarlok Singh produced an elaborate scheme for permanent 
resettlement. Since the productive capacity of land varied, to 
compute the amount of compensation due, he evolved a 4 stan- 
dard acre,' that is, an acre which could yield between 10 to 11 
maunds of wheat. The standard acre was equated to one rupee, 
and lanckwas assessed in terms of annas fraction of the standard 
acre. In terms of this standard acre, the Hindu-Sikh refugees 
who had left behind nearly 4,000,000 units had to be compen- 
sated, with less than 2,500,000 units. In order to make the 
distribution of land equitable, a scheme of graded cuts was 
introduced by which the small landholder suffered very little loss 
but the rich zamindar was reduced to modest proportions. 

Partition brought about revolutionary changes in the eco- 
nomic, social, and political structure of the Punjab. From having 
been the most prosperous community the Sikhs were reduced 
to the level of other Indian communities. This applied both to 
the agriculturist as well as the trading classes. Sikh farmers of 
western Punjab who owned large estates were reduced in the 
process of resettlement; those of eastern Punjab were levelled 
by legislation fixing 30 acres as the maximum holding of land. 
The urbanite Sikh was worse hit than the peasant. Urban 
property left behind by Muslims was infinitesimal compared 
with what the Sikhs left in Pakistan. In addition the Sikh 


Politics of Partition 

merchant had to compete both with the Hindu refugee as well 
as established Hindu tradesmen. 

Class barriers were lowered. The temporary allotments of 
1947 had, by giving them the same amount of land, elevated 
menial classes — sweepers, cobblers, potters, and weavers — to 
the level of the Jat and Rajput agriculturists. The 30-acre ceiling 
and cooperative farming carried the levelling process further. 

Adversity had its redeeming features. Reduction in the size 
of agricultural holdings forced owners to cultivate their lands 
themselves rather than rent them out to tenants. Absentee 
landlordism virtually disappeared. Fanners invested their sav- 
ings in tractors, sinking tube-wells, and introducing modern 
methods of cultivation. Agricultural cooperatives, improved seed, 
and fertilizer stores became a common feature in villages. More 
attention began to be paid to animal husbandry. With the advent 
of the community project movement, 'key' villages with facilities 
for artificial insemination, castration of poorer breeds of bulls, 
veterinary services, and dairy farming became lucrative sources 
of income. Another innovation was the development of poultry 
farming, which had long been neglected. Many farmers took to 
raising birds imported from foreign countries. In all these side- 
lines to agriculture Sikh farmers took the lead. Within a few 
years eastern Punjab changed from a deficit to a surplus region. 
The impact of the Sikh peasant was felt beyond the Punjab. 
Because of the paucity of land many were settled in the malarial 
jungles of the Terai in Uttar Pradesh and in the weed-infested 
regions of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan. Sikh refugee farmers 
showed the mettle of their colonizing forefathers in clearing the 
jungles and bringing barren lands under the plough. The Sikh 
trading classes showed the same grit as the peasants in reha- 
bilitating themselves in their professions. Many had been re- 
duced to abject poverty. Prosperous merchants had to start anew 
hawking their wares in the streets. Girls took to plying tongas; 
their younger brothers became shoe-shine boys. But seldom, if 
ever, was a Sikh man, woman, or child seen begging in the 
streets. And once again the Sikhs earned the respect of their 
compatriots as men of courage and fortitude. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 


The change in the political complexion of the Sikh community 
was significant. The exodus scattered the following of the 
Sikh leaders of western Punjab and weakened their position. 
Master Tara Singh retained his hold over the masses by becom- 
ing the spokesman of the aggrieved refugees; but others such as 
Gyani Kartar Singh and even more the urbanite nonjats such 
as Ujjal Singh and Hukam Singh 25 were compelled to secure 
their future by co-operating with the party in power. By contrast, 
politicians from east Punjab districts gained in strength and 
stature. Post independence years saw the rise of men such 
as Pratap Singh Kairon, 26 Swaran Singh, 27 and Gyan Singh 
Rarewala. 28 

25 Hukam Singh (b.1895), an Arora lawyer from Montgomery, rose to 
prominence in Akali politics after partition. He, along with Gyani Kartar 
Singh and Tara Singh, first put forward the demand for a Punjabi Suba. 
He was elected to the Lok Sabha twice and was made deputy speaker. He 
withdrew from active support of the 'Suba' in 1961; in 1962 he was elected 
speaker of the Lok Sabha by Congress support. 

26 Pratap Singh Kairon (1901-65), a Dhillon Jat of village Kairon took 
a degree in political science from the University of Michigan. He joined 
the Congress party in 1929, was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment in 
1932. He was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly it 1936 and again 
in 1946. He was a member of the Constituent Assembly. He was a minister 
in the Bhargava Cabinet 1947-9 and the Sachar Cabinet in 1952-6. He 
became chief minister of the Punjab in 1956, Kairon opposed the 'Suba' 
demand and was chiefly responsible for crushing the two movements 
launched in its support. He was a man of unusual drive and unconventional 
methods of administration. In June 1964 he was compelled to resign 
following a judicial pronouncement of corruption against him and his wife. 
He was assassinated on 6 February 1965. 

27 Swaran Singh (b.1907), a Purewal Jat lawyer from village Shankar 
(district Jullundur) , was elected to the Punjab Legislative Assembly in 1946 
and made development minister. He continued in the government after 
partition; in 1952 he joined Nehru's cabinet as minister for works, housing, 
and supply; in 1957 he became minister for steel, mines, and fuel; in 1962 
minister of railways; in 1963 minister for food and agriculture, and in 1964 
minister of external affairs in the cabinet of Lai Bahadur Shastri. 

28 Gyan Singh Rarewala (b.1901), a Cheema Jat of village Rara in 
Patiala state, was chief minister of PEPSU; minister in the Kairon ministry 
till 1962 and thereafter the chief opponent of Kairon. 


Politics of Partition 

The most significant effect of the migration was to create 
Sikh concentrations in certain districts of east Punjab. Although 
the Sikh migrants spread all over India and many thousands 
went abroad, more than three-fourths of their population re- 
mained in what had been the cradle of Sikhism — Malwa. This 
along with other factors (dealt with in the following chapter) 
revived the demand for a Sikh state. 29 

The east Punjab government was organized with a temporary 
capital at Simla. Sir Chandu Lai Trivedi was appointed gover- 
nor. Gopi Chand Bhargava was elected chief minister by the 
legislators who came over to the Indian side. 

In 1948, Sikh states of the Punjab along with Malerkotla and 
Nalagarh were merged to form the Patiala and the East Punjab 
States Union (PEPSU) with Maharajah Yadavendra Singh (who 
had taken the lead in persuading the princes to join the Indian 
Union) as rajpramukh (governor) and Gyan Singh Rarewala as 
chief minister. In PEPSU, the Sikhs formed a majority of the 

PEPSU had a short and unstable career, with the Akalis and 
the Congress evenly matched in strength. Gyan Singh Rarewala 
was replaced by the Congressite Raghbir Singh, and, on Raghbir 
Singh's death, by Brish Bhan. The concentration of Sikh popu- 
lation and its Akali proclivities induced the government to 
abolish PEPSU in 1956 and merge it into east Punjab. 

The first general elections in 1952 gave the Congress party 
an overall majority in the Punjab. Bhim Sen Sachar became 
chief minister. During this ministry's tenure, the new capital of 
the Punjab was built at Chandigarh near the foothills of the 

29 Some Sikh members of the East Punjab Assembly presented a list 
of thirteen demands to the Constituent Assembly. They demanded 50 
per cent representation in the East Punjab Legislature; the posts of 
governor and chief minister of East Punjab to be alternatively Sikh and 
Hindu; 40 per cent Sikh representation in the provincial service; 5 per cent 
Sikh representation in the Central Legislature; and at least one Sikh 
minister and one Sikh deputy minister in the Central Cabinet. If these 
demands were not conceded then, said the signatories, they would press 
for a separate Sikh province. Statesman, 9 November 1948. 

Civil Strife, Exodus, and Resettlement 285 

Himalayas. 30 Sachar was displaced by Pratap Singh Kairon in 
1956. The Congress party again won the elections in 1957 and 
1962, and Kairon remained firmly in the saddle till he was 
removed from office in June 1964. 

30 Chandigarh was designed by a team of foreign experts: Le Corbusier, 
Jeanneret, Maxwell Fry, and his wife, Jane Drew. 

18. A State of Their Own 

he ideal of a sovereign Sikh state has never been very far 

JL from the Sikh mind. Ever since the days of Guru Gobind 
Singh, Sikh congregations have chanted the litany raj karey ga 
Khalsa — the Khalsa shall rule — at the end of their daily prayers; 
innumerable Sikhs gave their lives to achieve this ambition. The 
establishment of the kingdom of Maharajah Ranjit Singh con- 
firmed the belief that it was their destiny to rule. The fall of the 
kingdom was regarded as a temporary setback. And, despite 
their early loyalty towards the British, when home rule for India 
began to be talked about Sikh leaders began to say: 4 If the 
British have to go, it is only right that the Punjab should be 
restored to the Sikhs from whom they wrongfully seized it.' 

The Sikhs had to contend with changing concepts of govern- 
ment as well as with the views of Hindus and Muslims. The British 
introduced the notion of the rule of the majority, that is, that 
neither property nor prowess mattered as much as numbers. And 
in the matter of numbers the Sikhs were a bare 12-13 per cent 
of the population of the Punjab and a little over 1 per cent of the 
population of India. If the right to govern was to be determined 
only by the counting of heads, then most of India would be ruled 
by the Hindus and the Muslim majority areas, including the 
Punjab, by the Muslims. The Sikhs' energies were therefore 
directed toward frustrating Muslim designs of ruling the Punjab. 

The Sikh leaders' first move was to turn the democratic 
argument against the Muslims. They aligned themselves with 

A State of Their Own 


the Hindus in demanding joint electorates and abolition of 
privileges for minority communities because they felt that these 
measures would dilute Muslim communalism. When the Mus- 
lims succeeded in securing separate electorates and privileges, 
the Sikhs pressed for the same for themselves and began to ask 
for weightage so that their strength, combined with that of the 
Hindus, could outweigh that of the Muslims. They pursued these 
tactics for almost twenty years till they realized that no govern- 
ment could fairly reduce a Muslim majority to a minority. A third 
line of resistance was evolved, viz., to ask for the redrawing of 
the boundaries of the Punjab so that the predominantly Muslim 
areas of the west might be separated from the predominantly 
non-Muslim areas of the east. Scant notice was taken of this 
proposal. 1 The Government of India Act of 1935 confirmed the 
worst fears of the Sikhs. The Punjab, like other provinces of 
India, attained autonomy. The Muslim dominated Unionist Party 
resumed control and, with enhanced powers, continued its policy 
of reducing Sikh representation to its numerical deserts. 

The concept of the Sikh state was resuscitated. It gathered 
strength as the Muslim demand for Pakistan grew. In the critical 
years preceding the relinquishing of power by Britain, Sikh 
leaders allowed themselves to be guided by the leaders of the 
National Congress, instead of boldly demanding a sovereign 
Sikh state (which at the time the Sikh masses wanted), and put 
forward such an idea only as an argument against Pakistan. All 
manner of considerations — historic, economic, hydrographic, 
and geographic — were advanced to inflate the size of the non- 
Muslim part of the Punjab so that what remained would make 
Pakistan a mockery. No one took their line of approach seriously. 2 

1 This was done at the Second Round Table Conference in 1931. See 
Minorities Committee, III, Appendix xyii, pp. 1435-7. 

2 At the end of the war, a 'Sikh homeland' plan was evolved by the 
Communists. This was on the eve of the 1945-6 elections and was designed 
to appease the Sikh masses, who had been angered by the Party's 
enthusiastic support of Pakistan. The 'Sikh homeland' scheme was pro- 
pounded by G. Adhikaii, who had only two years earlier dismissed it as 
L not the demand of progressive Sikh nationalism'. 


Politics of Partition 

As the date for the division of the Punjab drew closer, Sikh 
leaders found themselves in a quandary, not knowing whether to 
throw in their lot with India or with Pakistan. Jinnah told them 
that if they opted for Pakistan he would guarantee them protec- 
tion of life, property, freedom to practice their religion and the 
privileges they had enjoyed under British rule. 3 On the other 
hand, leaders of the Congress, with whom they had much closer 
contacts than with those of the Muslim League, often assured 
them that they should look upon India as their home. Speaking 
in Gurdwara Sis Ganj in Delhi in March 1931, Mahatma Gandhi 
said: 'Sikh friends have no reason to fear that the Congress party 
will betray them. For, the moment it does so, the Congress would 
not only thereby seal its own doom but that of the country too. 
Moreover the Sikhs are a great people. They know how to 
safeguard their rights by the exercise of arms if it should come 
to that.' 4 

While negotiations for the transfer of power from British to 
Indian hands were going on, Jawaharlal Nehru, speaking at the 
Congress Committee meeting at Calcutta in July 1946, had 
sounded an even more reassuring tone: 'The brave Sikhs of 
Punjab are entitled to special consideration. I see nothing wrong 
in an area and a set up in the north wherein the Sikhs can also 
experience the glow of freedom.' 5 

Sikh leaders decided not to pledge the future of their com- 
munity to the promises of Jinnah who had done nothing to prevent 
the Muslims of north-western Punjab savaging Sikhs. Centuries 

In a letter to Prof. I. N. Madan dated 25 January 1943, Adhikari wrote: 
'"Azad Punjab" is not the demand of progressive Sikh nationalism. It is 
a demand which is a counterblast to the demand for self-determination 
by the Muslims in the Punjab. It is in the interest of the Sikh people that 
they accept the demand of the Muslims of the Punjab and get them to 
accept their own rights of self-determination.' 

3 Jinnah met the Maharajah of Patiala and his Prime Minister, H. S. 
Malik, ICS, in the house of Malik's elder brother, Sir T. S. Malik, in New 
Delhi. See also Chapter xxvin of A History of the Sikh People by Gopal Singh. 

4 Young India, 16 March 1931. 

5 The Statesman, 1 July 1946. 

A State of Their Own 


of Sikh-Muslim hostility also cast their baneful shadows on the 
negotiations with Jinnah. Sikhs felt securer among Hindus, with 
whom they had more in common than with the Muslims. When 
the line of division was finally settled, almost to a man half the 
community which found itself on the Pakistani side of the border 
abandoned their homes, lands and properties, and trekked into 
an uncertain future in India. Those reluctant to leave Pakistan 
were driven out with slaughter. 

In the lawlessness that prevailed during the time of partition, 
some Sikhs were tempted to establish a government of their own 
in eastern Punjab. Another version of the sau sakhi was un- 
earthed; it predicted the crown for Yadavendra Singh of Patiala 
in Samvat 1890 (1947); in Moti Bagh palace the popular 
afterdinner topic was of 'Greater Patiala'. The more down-to- 
earth Harindra Singh of Faridkot propagated the idea of a Sikh 
state minus the Maharajah of Patiala. Sikhs of the INA vaunted 
their ability to effect a military coup; their visions, like those of 
the princes, were but vaporous creations of minds that dreamt 
much but dared very little. 

The partition created a new situation. Sikh agricultural migra- 
tion from West Pakistan was halted about the Ghaggar river, with 
the result that in some tehsils of east Punjab and in the princely 
states the Sikhs came to form a majority of the population. 6 For 
the first time the democratic argument could, in certain areas, 
be put forward in support of a Sikh state. Post-partition condi- 
tions made many Sikhs doubt the wisdom of having thrown in 
their lot with the Hindus. The scramble for land and urban 
property left by Muslim evacuees created ill-will between them 
and Hindu refugees as well as the Hindus of Haryana who had 
taken possession of lands left by Muslims. 

Sikh cultivators were also piqued by administrative delays in 
the granting of rehabilitation loans. Sikh trading classes of 
western Punjab were more severely hit. Their capital was lost. 
There were no Muslim traders in east Punjab whose place they 
could take, and the government was not in a position to give them 

6 Table showing the proportion of Hindus and Sikhs in 1951 on p. 291. 


Politics of Partition 

enough money to restart their businesses. Too proud to beg, their 
pride did not prevent them from being extremely bitter with a 
government which could never do enough for them; and bitter 
with the Hindus, whose suffering they minimized. They asked 
themselves: 'The Muslims got Pakistan, the Hindus got 
Hindustan; but what did we Sikhs get out of it?' In that frame 
of mind, it was not difficult to fan the smouldering fire of 
resentment against fate and create visions of a Sikh Utopia. 

The government showed little imagination in dealing with the 
Sikhs. Road transport over which the Sikhs had virtually a 
monopoly, was nationalized. In Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, 
and Rajasthan, Sikh settlers were regarded with suspicion 
natural towards more virile strangers. In Calcutta their control 
over taxi and bus services had to be ended to provide employ- 
ment for Hindu refugees coming from East Pakistan. The 
abolition of separate electorates and communal privileges and 
insistence on competitive paper-examinations for entrance into 
services (including official cadres of the armed forces) ad- 
versely affected the Sikhs. It also increased the incidence of 
apostasy in the army and the civilian services. Many Sikh civil 
servants and soldiers found that in a secular state, they did not 
have to be kesadharis to hold their jobs; nor did being clean- 
shaven prejudice their chances of promotion. Orthodox Sikhs 
readily ascribed this to the machinations of a wily Hindu 

In 1948 the government took two steps which nurtured the 
concept of a Sikh state. Punjab's princely states were merged 
into one unit — the Patiala and East Punjab States Union. PEPSU 
had the handsome Sikh maharajah, Yadavendra Singh, as its 
rajpramukh; a Sikh aristocrat, Gian Singh Rarewala, as chief 
minister; and the majority of its population was Sikh. All that was 
required was to attach the Sikh majority districts of east Punjab 
to PEPSU to make the Sikh state a reality. 

The second step taken in 1957 gave the Sikhs the excuse they 
had been waiting for. The Punjab was declared a bilingual state 
with both Punjabi and Hindi as its languages. The Sikhs (in these 
matters, the Akalis spoke for the community) were quick to 

A State of Their Own 291 
Table 18.3 

North-western Hindus Sikhs Northern 8c Hindus Sikhs 

districts % % south-eastern % % 






























A m Tit cca r 

97 7 

70 7 

/ KJ. 1 



















Mohindergarli 99.0 











Fatehgarh Sahib 













Punjab and PEPSU 




Note: India (Republic), Census Commissioner, Census of India 1951, vol. vin. 
Part ij-A, pp. 298-300. In 1956, the states of Punjab and PEPSU were 
merged, and some of their districts combined. 

fasten their resentment on the language issue. 7 They argued that 
the spoken language of the Punjab, barring Haryana, was Punjabi 

7 The Indian National Congress had committed itself to the principle 
of linguistic provinces. But after independence, its attitude to the subject 
changed — inasmuch as it concerned the Punjab and the Sikhs. The 
Constituent Assembly appointed a commission under Justice Dar to report 
on the feasibility of redrawing state boundaries but excluded the Punjab 
from its terms of reference. The commission pronounced against any 
change and despite the limitation prescribed opined as follows: 'The 
formation of linguistic provinces is sure to give rise to a demand for the 
separation of linguistic groups elsewhere. Claims have already been made 
by the Sikhs, Jats and others and these demands will in course of time be 
intensified and become live issues if once the formation of linguistic 
provinces is decided upon.' Dar Commission Report, p. 120. 

A State of Their Own 


bances created by Telugu-speaking people and the demand for 
a Marathi-speaking state encouraged Sikh agitation for the 
Punjabi Suba. 9 

At this critical juncture Punjabi Hindus, notably organizations 
connected with the Arya Samaj and its political counterpart, the 
Jan Sangh, played a very dubious role. They had started a 
campaign during the 1951 census operations to persuade Punjabi- 
speaking Hindus to disown their mother tongue, Punjabi, and 
declare it to be Hindi. The campaign was revived with renewed 
vigour for the census scheduled to take place in 1961. Perhaps 
they had reason to fear Sikh communalism and felt that Sikhs 
may use the linguistic argument and press for a redrawing of 

standard, while the other languages would be taught as a compulsory 
language from the last class of the primary state up to the matriculation 
standard and in the case of girls in the middle classes only. Provision was 
made for children whose mother tongue was other than the regional 
language, provided there were 40 students in the school or 10 in each class 
requiring instruction in the other language. 

PEPSU was also linguistically divided for educational purposes. The 
Hindi-speaking region consisted of the districts of Mahendragarh and 
Kohistan (including Chhachrauli tehsil minus Dera Bassi) and the tehsils 
of Jind and Narwana. The rest of the state was declared to be the Punjabi 
zone. In one zone Hindi in Devnagri script, in the other Punjabi in Gurmukhi 
script were made the media of instruction and in both the other language 
was made compulsory from the fourth primary class upwards. There was 
no such provision for choice of the medium of instruction in the Panjab. 

9 The Shiromani Akali Dal issued a manifesto stating as follows: 'The 
true test of democracy, in the opinion of the Shiromani Akali Dal, is that 
the minorities should feel that they are really free and equal partners in 
the destiny of their country; (a) to bring home this sense of freedom to the 
Sikhs, it is vital that there should be a Punjabi speaking language and 
culture. This will not only be in fulfillment of the pre-partition Congress 
programme and pledges, but also in entire conformity with the universally 
recognized principles governing formation of provinces, (b) The Shiromani 
Akali pal is in favour of formation of provinces on a linguistic and cultural 
basis throughout India, but it holds it is a question of life and death for 
the Sikhs for a new Punjab to be created immediately, (c) The Shiromani 
Akali Dal has reason to believe that a Punjabi speaking province may give 
Sikhs the needful security. It believes in a Punjabi speaking province as 
an autonomous unit of India.' The Spokesman, 29 August 1951. 


Politics of Partition 

boundaries to their own advantage. The move widened the gulf 
between the two communities. 10 

In the winter of 1953, the Government of India appointed a 
commission to go into the problem of redrawing state bound- 
aries. Although at the time the most disputed issue was that of 
the Punjab, no Sikh was nominated to this commission. 11 The 
case for a Punjabi Suba was presented by the Akalis. Several 
Hindu bodies opposed the demand by asking for the amalgam- 
ation of Himachal Pradesh (which was overwhelmingly Hindu) 
and the Punjab into a maha (greater) Punjab. The commission, 
which made its report two years later, rejected the case for a 
Punjabi-speaking state on the ground that a 'minimum measure 
of agreement for making a change' in the existing set-up did not 
exist. 12 

Master Tara Singh denounced the report as a 'decree of Sikh 
annihilitation'. 13 He said with some justification that if there had 
been no Sikhs, Punjabi would have been given a state of its own 
like the other major languages recognized by the Indian consti- 
tution; the refusal to concede a Punjabi state was therefore 
tantamount to discrimination against the Sikhs. He threatened 
to start a passive resistance movement. Hindus led by the Arya 
Samaj-Jan Sangh groups launched a counter-campaign to 'save 

10 'Hindus themselves are responsible for their alienation, insecurity 
and frustration/ writes Professor Gopal Singh of Himachal University. 'By 
disowning Punjabi as their mother tongue, they have become rootless and 
have alienated themselves from the culture, history and society of Punjab, 
thus leaving the Sikhs to claim Punjabi culture and Punjab history as theirs. 
They 'hang' in Punjab like a tree in the air having no roots in the soil they 
inhabit — During the years 1949-51, Arya Samajists like the late Lala 
Jagat Narain, the then secretary of the Punjab Pradesh Congress, mobi- 
lized Hindus to declare Hindi as their mother tongue in the 1951 census. 
He did so in the period 1979-80 for the 1981 census. Interestingly, many 
proponants of Hindi soon after independence were in the Congress, and 
many were active supporters and leaders of the Hindi Swaraksha Samiti 
and Hindi Sangathan, for example, Pawan Kumar of Patiala.' Punjab Today, 
pp. 27-8. 

1 1 Its members were S. Fazal Ali, H. N. Kunzru, and K. M. Panikkar. 

12 States Reorganization Commission Report. 

13 The Spokesman, 19 October 1955. 

A State of Their Own 


Hindi'. Communal tension led to rioting between Hindus and 
Sikhs in many towns. 14 

The government awoke to the unpleasant reality that the 
notion of a Sikh state had been reactivated in the minds of the 
Sikhs and the PEPSU had in fact become the nucleus of a 
Sikhistan. It decided to merge PEPSU into the Punjab and so 
to create a state in which the Hindus would form a permanent 
majority of 65 per cent against the Sikhs' 35 per cent. Akali 
leaders were hoodwinked into believing that the merger was a 
step toward the establishment of a Punjabi Suba. 15 They joined 
the Congress party en masse. The truth dawned on them after 
a few months. Having acquiesced in the liquidation of PEPSU, 
they were even further away from achieving their Suba. 

Instead of putting up a united front, Sikh leaders exhibited 
a lamentable absence of unity. The chief supporters of Master 
Tara Singh in his demand for the Punjabi Suba were Gyani 

14 The Punjab government issued an order banning the shouting of 
slogans. The Akalis defied the ban as a countravention of civil liberties. 
More than 12,000 were arrested. 

Of the many slogans for and against the Suba, two summed up the 
opposite points of view. The Hindu agitators — 'Hindi, Hindu, Hindustan' 
versus the Sikhs — 'Dhoti, topi, Jumna par (men who wear dhotis and topis, 
that is, Hindus, will be sent across the Jumna). 

Among the leaders arrested in this agitation were Master Tara Singh, 
Gyani Kartar Singh, and Hukam Singh. 

15 The mirage was created through a 'Regional Formula' whereby 
members of the Punjab Legislature were divided into two groups: one 
comprising those elected from the Punjabi-speaking region and the other 
from the Hindi-speaking region. It was provided that any measure affecting 
a particular region would first be considered by members of that region 
before coming up for plenary consideration. The Akalis were naive enough 
to proclaim that the abolition of PEPSU and the Regional Formula' was 
the first victor)* in the battle for the Punjabi Suba. The Sachar-language 
of each region at the district level and below would be the language of the 
region. The Punjab, in effect, was declared a bilingual state recognizing 
both Punjabi (in Gurmukhi script) and Hindi (in Devnagri script) as the 
official languages of the state. Departments of Punjabi and Hindi were set 
up; provision was made for the establishment of a Punjabi University 
(opened in 1962 at Patiala). 


Politics of Partition 

Kartar Singh and Hukam Singh, both from western Punjab, and 
hence somewhat uncertain of their political future. Both became 
quiescent and joined the Congress party; one to become a 
minister in the Punjab government; the other, somewhat later, 
became speaker of the Lok Sabha. The Congress was also 
fortunate in finding in Pratap Singh Kairon, the Chief Minister 
of the Punjab, a man of dynamic energy who was at the same 
time passionately opposed to the Akalis. 

Master Tara Singh was left virtually alone to lead the struggle 
for the Punjabi Suba. The Sikh electorate gave him its support. 
In the general elections of 1957, although the Congress won a 
majority of seats, the Akalis were able to hold the predominantly 
Sikh constituencies. 16 Three years later Master Tara Singh 
overcame the combined strength of the Congress, Communists, 
and other anti-Suba elements in the SGPC elections by capturing 
136 out of 140 seats, thus proving that the majority of Sikhs 
supported the Punjabi Suba. 

Master Tara Singh followed up his triumph by carrying a 'Now 
or Never' resolution (30 April 1960). Before the party could 
mature its plans, Chief Minister Kairon ordered the arrest of the 
leaders of the Akali Dal, including Master Tara Singh. The 
Master appointed Sant Fateh Singh, a granthi-cum-Social worker, 
to act as 'dictator' and to continue the agitation for the Punjabi 
Suba. Fateh Singh organized passive resistance on a massive 
scale. According to the Akali Dal, over 57,000 (according to the 
government, only 23,000) men were gaoled in the movement. 
Matters came to a head when Fateh Singh went on a fast unto 
death. The passive resistance and the fast were called off (9 
January 1961) on an assurance from the government that Sikh 
grievances would be looked into. 17 

16 The Akalis won 19 seats in the Punjab Assembly; they carried most 
of the Sikh majority constituencies. Brish Bhan, who had been Chief Minister 
of PEPSU and a supporter of the merger, was defeated by Sant Harcharan 
Singh Longowal who later emerged as the leader of the Akali Dal. 

17 With his usual candour, Master Tara Singh admitted that the primary 
motive for asking for the Suba was 'to protect Sikh religion and improve 
the position of the Sikhs'; the language issue was secondary. 'You might 

A State of Their Own 


The negotiations with the government did not bear any fruit. 
Nehru refused to accept the contention that denial of a Punjabi- 
speaking province amounted to discrimination against the Sikhs. 
In sheer exasperation Master Tara Singh undertook to fast 
unto death unless the Suba was conceded. He began his fast on 
15 August 1961, in the Golden Temple complex. 18 The govern- 
ment refused to yield. After 43 days without food, the old 
warrior's spirit was broken, and he gave up his self-imposed 

Master Tara Singh saved his life but killed his political career 
and dealt a grievous blow to the cause of a Sikh-majority state. 
He was arraigned at the Akal Takht 19 and found guilty of proving 
false to his oath and to the hallowed tradition of martyrdom. He 
was sentenced to clean the shoes of the congregation for five 

declare it Punjabi language of the whole of India, would that help the Sikhs?' 
he asked. Tara Singh elaborated the demand, stating that Sikh majority 
would improve their status in the state; it would preclude governmental 
interference in gurdwara affairs, give better status to Punjabi, and make 
Gurmukhi the sole script. With this statement began the rift between Tara 
Singh and Fateh Singh. The Sant Fateh Singh . is a religious man,' said 
Tara Singh, explaining the other's insistence that the demand was purely 
linguistic, *he is not a politician and might have been misled.' The 
Spokesman, 16 January 1961. 

18 Tara Singh made a statement during the fast explaining his position: 
'If we face the problem open-mindedly then the situation can be summed 
up in three sentences: 

1 . A national principle has been accepted that to make the people feel 
the glow of freedom, states should be created on the continguity of 
language affording full scope for development of one national lan- 
guage in one state. 

2. This principle has been implemented in other parts of India and even 
in Punjab an area has been demarcated which the government 
experts feel is a Punjabi-speaking area. 

3. This Punjabi-speaking area, with any adjustments that the expert 
opinion may deem necessary, is not being afforded the status of a 
state, simply because the Hindus do not agree to it.' 

19 Tara Singh pleaded: k If I have committed a mistake, correct me. 
If 1 have done the right thing, march with me. If I have acted treacherously, 
punish me.' T)ie Spokesman, 6 November 1961. 


Politics of Partition 

days. Although, he carried out his penance, he was not forgiven 
by his community. A few months later, both the SGPC and the 
Akali Dal voted him out of power. Sant Fateh Singh took over 
as the leader of the Sikhs. 

The government pressed home its triumph over the sup- 
porters of the Sikh state. 20 A three-man commission 21 under the 
chairmanship of S. R. Das was appointed to hear the 'grievances 
of the Sikhs of the Punjab'. The Akalis expressed lack of 
confidence in the personnel of the commission and its terms of 
reference; they asked the Sikhs to boycott its proceedings. The 
community displayed remarkable unanimity in disassociating 
itself from the proceedings of the Das Commission. 22 

The general election of 1962 did little to clear the atmos- 
phere. 23 The Congress party won in most mixed constituencies; 

20 In the Punjab Assembly, Chief Minister Kairon compelled all the 
sitters-on-the-fence to make unequivocal declarations disavowing the Sikh 
state. At the centre, Hukam Singh, who had been one of the fathers of the 
Suba plan, confessed to his past errors: 4 If really there is a villian for this 
activity, I am here. And if he is to hang, let me be hanged.' The Spokesman, 
4 September 1961. 

21 Members of the commission were S. R. Das (chairman and ex-Chief 
Justice of the Supreme Court), C. P. Ramaswami Aiyer, and M. C. Chagla 
(former Chief Justice of Bombay, Indian Ambassador in the US, Indian 
High Commissioner in London, and later, Minister of Education. 

22 Five men tendered evidence before the commission in favour of the 
government; they included Rajinder Singh Bhatia, editor of Quami Ekta, 
and Dr Gopal Singh Dardi who as editor of the defunct Liberator, had been 
an enthusiastic supporter of the Sikh state. Before the Das Commission, 
the same Dardi listed the 4 privileges' which the Sikhs enjoyed from the 
Nehru government. Dardi (b.1917) was nominated to the Rajya Sabha, 
then sent as ambassador to Bulgaria and the Caribbean. He was made 
chairman of the high power committee on minorities. He was amongst 
the handful of Sikhs who supported the army action in the Golden Temple 
and was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Goa. Dardi is the author of 
several books on the Sikhs, including a four-volume translation of the 

23 In the. Punjab, the Akalis won 19 seats: in the Lok Sabha, 3. Chief 
Minister Kairon himself had the narrowest of escapes, retaining his seat 
only by a dubious majority of 34 seats. 

Among the notable returns was Kapur Singh for the Lok Sabha. Kapur 

A State of Their Own 


Akali supporters of the Punjabi Suba carried the majority of Sikh 
voters. Before the Akalis could mature their plans to make 
another bid for the Suba, the Chinese invaded Indian frontiers/ 24 
The Sikhs suspended their agitation and eagerly rose to the 
defence of their country. 

Before he died on 27 May 1964, the Prime Minister,Jawaharlal 
Nehru, had occasion to gauge the emotional upsurge in the Sikh 
masses and doubted the wisdom of opposing their demand for 
the Punjabi Suba. In a speech delivered at Rajpura he conceded 
that Punjabi was the dominant language of the Punjab and 
instructed the Chief Minister, Pratap Singh Kairon, to declare 
Punjab a unilingual state." 5 Kairon was at the time in a very shaky 
position. Allegations of nepotism and corruption had been lev- 
elled against him. He felt that any concessions made to the 
Akalis might be construed as signs of weakness and jeopardize 
his position as chief minister. Kairon reassured Nehru that the 
Suba agitation did not have the support of the Sikhs but only of 
the Akalis who had no fight left in them. 

Nehru's successor, Lai Bahadur Shastri, and his Home Min- 
ister, Gulzari Lai Nanda, continued the policy of denial. The 
situation changed when Pratap Singh Kairon was found guilty of 
corruption and nepotism and compelled to resign. On the advice 
of Swaran Singh, External Affairs Minister, Lai Bahadur Shastri 
manoeuvred the elevation of a nondescript, smalkown politi- 
cian, Ram Kishen, 26 as Chief Minister. 

Singh had been a member of the Indian Civil Service till his suspension 
in 1948. He was responsible for much of the Suba literature. Gurnam Singh, 
retired judge of the Punjab High Court, was returned to the Punjab 
Assembly and became leader of the opposition. 

24 The Punjabis' contribution in men and material equalled that of the 
rest of the states of India put together. The only non-Punjabi district to 
exceed the Punjab districts' contribution in gold was Ganganagar in 
Rajasthan. Ganganagar is largely settled by Sikh refugees. 

25 P. C. Joshi (ed.), Punjabi Suba — A Symposium, p. 69. 

26 Ram Kishen (b.1919) hails from Jhang. In 1952 he was elected to 
the Punjab legislature and was a minister under Kairon in 1962. He was 
Chief Minister of Punjab from July 1964 to July 1965. 


Politics of Partition 

The Suba movement now led by Sant Fateh Singh gained 
fresh momentum. It received encouragement from across the 
border as Radio Pakistan began a regular series of broadcasts 
assuring the Sikhs of Pakistani support in demanding their 
homeland. Tension between India and Pakistan mounted; clashes 
on the borders escalated into open war. On 1 September 1965 
Pakistani forces crossed the international border at Chhamb- 
Jaurian in the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Five days later, the 
Indian army did likewise by launching an offensive towards 

The Akalis did not exploit the situation but declared their 
unqualified support to the government. Once again Sikh soldiers 
crossed swords with the Pakistanis and Sikh peasantry rallied 
to the support of their fighting forces, carrying food and help to 
the battlefront. Amongst the many officers who distinguished 
themselves in the 22-day war the most outstanding was Lt. 
General Harbaksh Singh to whom went the credit of halting the 
Pakistani tank offensive into Indian territory. Of all the states of 
the Indian Union, Punjab's contribution in aid of defence was the 
highest; of all the districts of India the top contributions came 
from Ganganagar in Rajasthan, largely populated by Sikh farm- 
ers. Insinuations of Sikh disloyalty so assiduously spread by anti- 
Sikh elements were thus silenced. 27 

27 Hukum Singh had this to say about the way the central government 
under Shastri dealt with the issue: 'After denying this fundamental linguis- 
tic right for many years, Prime Minister Shastri appointed a Parliamentary 
Committee, in October 1965, under my chairmanship, to prepare a report 
on the Punjabi Suba issue. This was done in accordance with the fresh 
promises made to the Sikhs during the September 1965 war with Pakistan. 
The intention of the Government then was to use me against my com- 
munity, secure an adverse report, and then reject the demand, even after 
18 long years of deliberate frustrating delays. When my report was nearly 
ready Mrs Indira Gandhi went to Mr Chavan and said she had heard that 
Sardar Hukum Singh was going to give a report in favour of the Punjabi 
Suba, and that he should be stopped. . . . Lai Bahadur Shastri continued the 
policy of Jawaharlal Nehru, and was dead against the demand of Punjabi 
Suba, as was Nehru. So, when he was urged by Mrs Gandhji to stop Hukam 
Singh, he did not waste any time. Mr Shastri called Mr Gulzari Lai Nanda, 

A State of Their Own 


After cessation of hostilities, a sub-committee of the Cabinet 
was constituted under the chairmanship of Indira Gandhi to 
examine the demand for the Punjabi Suba. 28 It reported in favour 

then Home Minister, to his residence, and conveyed to him the concern 
about the feared report. Every effort was made by Mrs Gandhi, Mr Shastri 
and Mr Nanda to stop me from making my report. But when nothing 
succeeded, the Congress forestalled the Parliamentary Committee Report 
by agreeing to reorganize Punjab by a vague resolution dated 9 March while 
the committee report was signed on 15 March 1966, a week later. It was 
a deliberate attempt to by-pass this Committee, and undermine its impor- 

The Parliamentary Committee had come to these conclusions: (i) The 
present State of Punjab be reorganized on a linguistic basis (ii) The 
Punjabi region specified in the First Schedule to the Punjabi Regional 
Committee Order, 1957 should form a unilingual Punjabi State. 

The government by-passed the Committee and forestalled its report. 
The subsequent reference to the Shah Commission, was loaded heavily 
against Punjab. Making the 1961 Census as the basis and the tehsil 
(instead of village) as the unit was a deliberate design to punish the Sikhs. 
The language returns in the 1961 Census were on communal lines when 
Punjabi-speaking Hindus falsely declared Hindi as their language. There- 
fore, the demarcation had to be on communal rather than on a linguistic 
basis. Consequently merit was again ignored and justice denied. Naturally 
tensions between the two communities increased. If Punjabi Suba had been 
demarcated simply on a linguistic basis and not on false returns of 1961, 
there would not have been any extremist movement. Tension between 
Hindus and Sikhs in Punjab is bound to continue unless the communal 
section of Hindus see wisdom and retrace their steps by acknowledging 
Punjabi as their mother tongue.' Betrayal of the Sikhs by Hukam Singh, 
quoted in Hindu-Sikh Conflict: Causes and Cure, (Transasiatic India Times, 
London, 1983, pp. 21-2. 

28 In her dealings with the Punjab and the Sikhs, Mrs Gandhi practised 
a kind of duplicity more becoming of a small-time politician than a 
farsighted statesman. While appearing to concede the Suba, she first 
deprived it of its capital Chandigarh and then made its transfer to the 
Punjab conditional on the Punjab giving up Fazilka and Abohar, which were 
predominantly Punjabi speaking, to Haryana, even though they were not 
contiguous to it. This was revealed by Hukam Singh in an article he wrote 
just before his death and which was published by The Indian Express in its 
issue of 11 April 1983. Mrs Gandhi brazenly confirmed the allegation of 
duplicity and justified it on the grounds of retaining support of the Hindus. 


Politics of Partition 

of redrawing the boundaries of the Punjab on a linguistic basis. 
Lai Bahadur Shastri's sudden death at Tashkent on 10 January, 
1966 ended the chapter of the central government's open hos- 
tility to the concept of the Punjabi Suba. Indira Gandhi, who 
succeeded Shastri as Prime Minister and had shared her 
father's initial aversion to the Suba, now sensed that her party 
stalwarts were in favour of conceding it. She changed her stance 
by appearing to be even-handed, but loading the dice against a 
Suba government running smoothly. On 10 March 1966 the 
Congress Working Committee passed a resolution to the effect 
that 'out of the existing State of Punjab a State with Punjabi as 
the State language be formed. The Government is requested to 
take necessary steps for this purpose.' 

There was strong opposition to the resolution. But Kamraj, 
president of the Congress and known as the 'King Maker' for 
having got Mrs Gandhi elected Prime Minister, carried the 
majority with him. 29 'How can the Punjabis be denied the benefit 
of the very national principle which the people of the other States 
were already enjoying, the right to have, live and work under their 
own linguistic State?' he argued. The Defence Minister, Y. B. 
Chavan, conscious of the Sikhs' unqualified support in the 
hostilities against Pakistan, supported him. He said: 'A decision 
on the demand for a Punjabi State could not be delayed because 
of the geographical position of the Punjab.' 30 Prime Minister 

In her memoirs My Truth she writes: 4 1 went to Y. B. Chavan and said I had 
heard that Sardar Hukam Singh (Speaker of the Lok Sabha) was going 
to give a report in favour of the Punjabi Suba and that he should be 
stopped — I was very bothered and I went round seeing everybody. To 
concede the Akali demand would mean abandoning a position to which it 
[the Congress] was firmly committed and letting down its Hindu supporters 
in the projected Punjabi Suba; not to do so would precipitate a Sikh 
agitation which would certainly be violent.* 

29 Morarji Desai, later Deputy Prime Minister, decried the demand as 
communal. He was supported by Biju Patnaik, erstwhile Chief Minister of 
Orissa (found guilty of corruption by a Commission) and Dr Ram Subhag 
Singh, a minister in the central cabinet. See P. C. Joshi (ed.), Punjabi 
Suba — A Symposium, p. 82. 

30 The Hindustan Times, New Delhi, 10 March 1956. 

A State of Their Own 


Indira Gandhi gave in: 'The Working Committee has passed a 
resolution and now we [the government] have to implement it,' 
she said. 31 

The decision of the Indian National Congress was accepted 
by all the political parties of India save the Bharatiya Jan Sangh 
which condemned the Congress resolution as 'a blow to the 
forces of unity and integration of the country.'* 2 The Jan Sangh 
was at the time dominated by Punjabi Hindus. Professor Balraj 
Madhok, its president-elect and Dr Baldev Prakash, President 
of the provincial Punjab unit, were the most vociferous opponents 
of the Suba. The party organized mass demonstrations. In many 
Punjab towns, notably Panipat, there was looting, arson and 
bloodshed. Though violent, the counter-Suba agitation was of 
very short duration because the decision to bifurcate the old 
State was supported not only by the Sikhs but also by the Hindi- 
speaking populace of Haryana and Himachal. The only ele- 
ments out of step with the march of events were the Punjabi 
Hindus. It soon dawned upon them that, by denying their mother- 
tongue, they were cutting their own roots in the Punjab and, as 
a Punjabi-speaking people, would become alien elements in 
Hindi-speaking Haryana and Himachal Pradesh. 

A Boundary Commission consisting of Justice J. C. Shah 
(chairman) , S. Dutt and M. M. Philip was appointed on 23 April 
1966 to 'examine the existing boundary of the Hindi and Punjabi 
regions of the present State of Punjab and recommend what 
changes, if any, were necessary to secure the linguistic homo- 
geneity of Punjab and Haryana.' The terms of reference were 
designed to deprive the Punjabi Suba of its legitimate rights. 
For one, the commission was told to take the census figures of 
1961 which everyone knew were unreliable because of the false 
returns made by a large section of Punjabi Hindus regarding 
their mother tongue. 33 For another, instead of the village being 

31 Ibid. 

32 P. C. Joshi (ed.), Punjabi Suba — A Symposium, p. 86. 

33 As early as 1955 the States Reorganization Commission had re- 
corded 'the repudiation by large sections of the Hindu community of the 
Punjabi language as their mother tongue. This led, during the last census 


Politics of Partition 

taken as a unit as it had always been in the past, the commission 
was required to see that its recommendations did not involve 
the breaking up of existing tehsils. The real bone of contention 
was Chandigarh which was in Kharar tehsiL The 1961 Census 
showed that 55.2 per cent of its population was Hindi speaking. 
So Justice Shah and Philip had no qualms of conscience in 
recommending that Chandigarh should go to Haryana. S. Dutt 
dissented and recommended that the city go to the Punjab. 
There was an uproar over the majority verdict giving Chandi- 
garh, built specifically as a capital for the Punjab, to Haryana. 
The central government got out of the tangle woven by itself 
by declaring the city a Union Territory to be shared by both 
States. Thus, the Punjabi Suba was conceded but without a 
capital exclusively of its own. The Punjab was given an area of 
20,254 square miles comprising the districts of Jullundur, 
Hoshiarpur, Ludhiana, Ferozepur, Amritsar, Patiala, Bhatinda, 
Kapurthala and parts of Gurdaspur, Ambala and Sangrur. It 
had a population of 115,84 lakhs of whom about 56-60 per cent 
were Sikhs. 

Haryana got 16,835 square miles of territory with a population 
of 75.27 lakhs, of whom 5 per cent were Sikhs. Himachal 
comprised 10,215 square miles with a population of 1 1.96 lakhs, 
of whom barely 2 per cent were Sikhs. 

Though the new boundaries did not strictly follow the linguis- 
tic distribution of the people, the establishment of the Punjabi 
Suba succeeded in gathering nearly 80 per cent of the Sikh 
population in one State. The only other large concentration 
of Sikhs was in the capital city, Delhi — where they formed a 
little over 7 per cent of the population and numbered a little over 
3 lakhs. 

operation to a situation in which the separate tabulation of Hindi and 
Punjabi speaking people had to be abandoned.' After the 1951 census the 
Union Home Minister said in Parliament: 'It is believed that the returns 
submitted on the question of language had been generally incorrect in 
large, parts of Punjab, that is as to the mother tongue of the persons 
concerned, whether it is Punjabi or Hindi.' By the 1961 Census the Hindi 
campaign had become even stronger. 

A State of Their Own 


The Suba belied the fears of its detractors. Instead of increas- 
ing tension between Hindus and Sikhs, there was a sudden 
defusion of communal passions built up over the years of 
agitation and counter-agitation. Extremist sections of both com- 
munities found themselves isolated. It took the wind out of the 
sails of the clamour for a sovereign Sikh State. 'The Punjabi 
Suba is our last demand/ said Sant Fat eh Singh voicing at the 
time sentiments of the overwhelming majority of his community, 
and continued, 'I think this demand for a Sikh State asked for 
by Master Tara Singh, a shrinking group of Akalis, will end for 
good, it was a useless demand and has practically fizzled out/ 34 
At the same time, it punctured the self-inflated importance of 
the rabidly anti-Suba, anti-Sikh elements among Punjabi Hin- 
dus. This was reflected in the dramatic decline in popularity 
of the Bharatiya Jan Sangh. It was reduced to agitating for 
maintaining the Suba as a bilingual state with the freedom for 
parents to choose what language they wanted their children to 
study at school. 

To facilitate the redrawing of boundaries, President's Rule 
was imposed on the Punjab with Dharma Vira of the ICS as 
Governor. As soon as the boundary lines were drawn, new 
governments were constituted for the three states that came into 
existence. Gurmukh Singh Musafir 35 replaced Ram Kishen as 
Chief Minister of the Punjab, Bhagwat Dayal Sharma and Dr 
Parmar became the Chief Ministers of Haryana and Himachal 
Pradesh respectively. 

It was no mere coincidence that no sooner was the old Punjab 
divided on a linguistic basis, all the three states carved out of 

34 P. C. Joshi (ed.) Punjabi Suba — A Symposium, p. 120. 

35 Gurmukh Singh Musafir (1899-1984) was born at Adhwal, Dist. 
Campbellpore; a Chadda Khatri, he used 'Musafir' as a poetic pseudonym. 
He was a Jathedar Akal Takht in 1930 and Secretary, S.G.P.C. in 1932. 
He took part in the Quit India Movement (1942-5) and was gaoled. He 
was also a member of the Constituent Assembly (1947) and president, 
Punjab Pradesh Congress Committee for ten years from 1952. He was 
elected to the Lok Sabha in 1957 from Amritsar and, later, to the Rajya 


Politics of Partition 

it made rapid strides in agriculture, industry and horticulture. 
The Punjabi Suba led the rest of India in modernizing farming 
techniques, with Haryana following a close second. Even moun- 
tain-locked Himachal Pradesh forged ahead to become the 
main supplier of fruits and potatoes to the rest of the country. 36 
General Elections took place in February 1967. A United 
Front consisting of the Akalis, the Jan Sangh and the Commu- 
nists won an overall majority of 53 seats in a house of 104, 
beating the Congress party with only 43 seats to second place. 
Amongst the Congress casualties was the Chief Minister, Musafir, 
who was beaten by an up and coming young communist, Satyapal 
Dang. 37 

The United Front chose Gurnam Singh 38 as its leader. Among 
his ministerial colleagues was Dr Baldev Prakash of the Jan 
Sangh, till recently one of the most virulent opponents of the 
Suba, Lachhman Singh Gill, an equally ardent protagonist of the 
Suba, and the communist, Satyapal Dang. 

It soon transpired that the Akalis, who carried the Sikh 
masses with them on the demand for the Punjabi Suba, had no 
clear notion of what they wanted to do with it when their goal was 
achieved. The bigger faction led by Sant Fateh Singh pro- 
claimed that all that remained to be done was the redrawing of 
boundaries along linguistic lines and the transfer of Chandigarh 
to the Punjab. The smaller but more vociferous faction led by 
Master Tara Singh made no secret of the fact that they had used 
the linguistic argument to gain a state in which the Sikhs would 
be in a majority and so be able to ensure the preservation of Sikh 

36 Figures speak eloquently of the change that took place. In 1971-2 
the per capita income of the Punjabis at current prices was Rs 995 (the 
highest of any State and considerably more than the Indian average of 
Rs 645) . Haryana came next with Rs 829 per capita. Even the Himachali, 
who had been among the poorest of the country, improved his position and 
recorded an income of Rs 563 per head per year. 

37 Satyapal Dang (b.1923), at village Gojra, District Lyallpur, now in 
Pakistan; a member of the first Gurnam Singh ministry, in charge of food. 

38 Gurnam Singh (1899-1973); born at Narangwal, Dist. Ludhiana. A 
barrister, he entered politics after his retirement as a judge of the Punjab 
High Court in 1959. He was killed in an air crash. 

A State of Their Own 


traditions and identity. However, even they did not bother to 
spell out the details. Out of this second faction emerged a yet 
smaller but even more vociferous group pledged to the estab- 
lishment of a sovereign, independent Sikh State. 39 

With no clearly defined economic, social or political objec- 
tives and no strong loyalties to the parties they belonged to, 
personal advancement became the chief motivating factor of 
Punjabi politicians. In the years that followed they indulged in 
the sordid game of defections and regroupings of political 
factions known as partibazi. First Gian Singh Rarewala, the 
leader of the Congress party won over Lachhman Singh Gill of 
Master Tara Singh's group and toppled Gurnam Singh's min- 
istry after it had been in office for a little over eight months (8 
March 1967 to 25 November 1967). Gill was Chief Minister for 
nearly nine months (27 November 1967 to 23 August 1968). 
Since he belonged to the Master Tara Singh faction he tried to 
help his mentor gain control of the S.G.P.C., of which he had 
once been secretary, He charged the Sant group of malpractices 
and had Fateh Singh's right-hand man, Chanan Singh, arrested. 
At the same time he sought to gain popular esteem among the 
Sikhs by having the Official Languages Bill passed by both 
houses of the State legislature. The act made Punjabi the only 
language for administration at the district level. Gill boasted 
that he had done for Punjabi what even Ranjit Singh had been 
unable to do as Maharajah of the Punjab. 

Gill's tenure of office was marked by rowdyism in the legis- 
lature (the assembly had to be prorogued by the Governor's 
ordinance on 11 March 1968). Master Tara Singh's death on 22 
November 1967 deprived him of his chief prop; the defections 

39 The faction later came to be led by Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan. In the 
1962 elections, Kairon backed him as an independent against Gyani Kartar 
Singh. He fought and won the 1967 elections and became Deputy Speaker. 
He joined the Akali Party and was for a while Finance Minister in 
Lachhman Singh Gill's government. After the defeat of Gill's party in the 
1969 elections, Chauhan set up the Pheruman Akali Dal and was also 
Secretary of the Sant Akali Dal. Revisited England, made contacts with 
foreign embassies and tried to put the Sikh case before the United Nations. 


Politics of Partition 

of Congress party members (led by Rarewala) reduced his 
following to a minority and he was forced to resign. The Punjab 
came under President's Rule. 

For the next five and a half months (13 August 1968 to 17 
February 1969), Governor D.C. Pavate ruled the State with the 
help of two advisers. A mid-term poll in 1969 exposed the 
factionalism rife in Punjab's political parties. Rarewala's hege- 
mony over the Congress was successfully challenged by Giani 
Zail Singh, president of the provincial unit. Rarewala resigned 
from the Congress to rejoin the Akalis. 

The Akalis were also divided in their ranks. The now leader- 
less Master Tat a Singh group lost its following in the rural areas 
and was reduced to a limited following in towns and cities. 
Recognizing their weakness, the Tara Singh Akalis agreed to 
fight the elections as junior partners of the Fateh Singh group. 
Sant Fateh Singh was able to win the support of the Jan Sangh 
as well as the Communists. He placated them with an unequivo- 
cal declaration that, having achieved the Punjabi Suba on the 
basis of language, he desired no more changes of boundaries 
and acknowledged Hindi as the national language for India as 
well as the link language for Punjab. 

The elections which took place in February 1969 were a 
triumph for Sant Fateh Singh. For the first time the Akalis came 
out as the largest single party in the legislature 40 : of the 104 seats 
in the assembly they won 43; the Congress 38; the Jan Sangh 8 
(its leader Dr Baldev Prakash was defeated); the rest went to 
the Communists, Socialists and Swatantrites. Gurnam Singh 
was re-elected leader of the Akali group and invited once again 
to form the government. 

Although Gurnam Singh announced a ten-point programme 
which included restoration of communal harmony, securing 
Chandigarh solely for the Punjab, amelioration of the condition 
of backward classes, electrification of villages, etc. he pursued 
his vendetta against the Congress and his rivals with greater zeal 

40 In a shoit while Gurnam Singh was able to win over enough Congress 
MLAs to gain an absolute majority in the House. 

A State of Their Own 


than his development plans. Since the Congress party was 
strong in the urban areas, he postponed the scheduled elections 
to '47 municipal committees and superseded the Jullundur 
municipal committee in which the Congress Avas in power. He 
had Lachhrnan Singh Gill arrested and charged with corruption 
during his short tenure as Chief Minister. 11 One positive step 
taken by Gurnam Singh was the abolition of the upper house of 
the Punjab legislature. 

While maintaining the public posture of being anti-Congress, 
Gurnam Singh began to cultivate Congress leaders, His oppor- 
tunity came during the confrontation between the two rival 
Congress factions over the election of the President of the Indian 
Republic in the autumn of 1969. Gurnam Singh pledged Akali 
support to Mrs Gandhi's candidate, V. V. Giri, who eventually 
won by a slender majority. 

The infighting between the Sant Fateh Singh faction and 
Master Tara Singh's followers queered the pitch for Gurnam 
Singh. Tara Singh's followers launched a propaganda campaign 
against Sant Fateh Singh, accusing him of dishonourable con- 
duct in breaking his vow to fast to death, or immolate himself 
on 27 December 1966 if Chandigarh was not given to the Punjab. 
While accusations and counter-accusations were being hurled at 
each other by the two factions, Darshan Singh Pheruman of the 
Swatantra Party announced his decision to begin a fast to death 
on 15 August 1969 in the Central Jail, Amritsar, where he had 
been lodged three days earlier. Pheruman carried out his pledge 
and after 74 days of hunger, died on 27 October 1969. 42 At his 

41 Gill retaliated b\ filing an election petition against Gurnam Singh. 
The issues were settled by the sudden death of Gill on 16 April 1969. Gill 
was born in 1917 in a Tat Sikh family of Chuhar Chuk, Dist. Ferozepur. 
Rejoined the Gongress in 1937. In 1947 he was imprisoned thrice for 
nationalist activities from 1962 to 1967 he was deputy leader of the 
opposition in the Punjab legislature. 

42 Darshan Singh Pheruman (1886—1969) was involved in anti-British 
agitations in Malaya and in India. He spent 15 years in gaol. He was a 
member of the S.Gr.P.G. for several years and its General Secretary for 
two terms. He was member of the Rajva Sabha 195LM54 and joined the 
Swatantra Party as a founder member in 1959. 


Politics of Partition 

funeral a large, angry crowd shouted slogans against Gurnam 
Singh's government and Sant Fat eh Singh. 

For a while Gurnam Singh supported Sant Fateh Singh and 
sought to restore his image as the champion of Sikh interests 
by vigorously demanding Chandigarh for the Punjab. There was 
a resurgence of Hindu-Sikh tension; in Haryana, Hindu college 
students went on a rampage against the Sikhs. Gurnam Singh's 
break with Sant Fateh Singh came over the iatter's demand that 
he (Gurnam) and all Akali members of the legislature resign 
their seats. Gurnam Singh refused to oblige. Sant Fateh Singh 
denounced him and made a desperate bid to win back the Sikh 
masses. He began another fast on 26 January 1970 and swore 
that if Chandigarh was not restored to the Punjab, he would take 
his own life. 

Mrs Gandhi stepped in. And once again gave an award 
announced on 29 January 1970 which she ought to have known 
was unfair to the Punjab and would become an issue in the years 
to come. She gave Chandigarh to the Punjab, but unasked for 
gave a part of Fazilka tehsil and Abohar (both rich cotton 
growing tracts) to Haryana, along with an outright grant of Rs 
10 crores to build itself a new capital. At least 60 out of the 115 
villages of this Fazilka-Abohar region had recorded their lan- 
guage as Punjabi and it was not contiguous to Haryana. To get 
over the difficulty she prescribed that 4 a strip of territory of an 
average width of about one furlong along the inter-state boundary 
between Punjab and Rajasthan in village Khandukhera of Mukisar 
tehsil will also be transferred to Haryana.' Thus she injected an 
alien element in the body politics of Punjab and Haryana which 
soon became a cancerous growth. Of all the original states of 
the union it was only Punjab which had to share its capital and 
have a corridor carved out of its territory. 

Both Gurnam Singh and Sant Fateh Singh claimed to be the 
victors of Chandigarh. Relations between the two came to 
breaking point. As Fateh Singh's followers began to desert him, 
Gurnam Singh turned to the Congress for help. The Congressites 
refused to bail him out and his second tenure as Chief Minister 
came to an end on 25 March 1970 with the defeat of his ministry. 

A State of Their Own 


The Akalis added insult to injury by expelling him from the 
party. 43 

The Congress party's attempt to take over the administration 
was frustrated by the Akalis. Prakash Singh Badal 44 collected 54 
legislators, lined them up on the lawns of the Governor's house 
and successfully claimed the right to be the new Chief Minister. 
On 27 March 1970 he along with another Akali and the leader 
of the Jan Sangh were administered the oath of office. 45 

The new chief minister had a full-time job keeping his sup- 
porters and possible defectors happy. And when that failed he 
tried to avoid legislative procedures and instead rule by ordi- 
nances. The governor refused to oblige. 

The parliamentary elections in March 1971 exploded the 
myth of the Sikh masses' total commitment to the Akali party. 
Of the 13 parliamentary seats from the Punjab, 10 were captured 
by the Congress and 1 by the Communists: the Akalis won only 
one. The debacle caused dissension and defection from the 
ranks of Badal' s supporters. The Jan Sangh on one side and the 
extremist Akalis (led by Gurnam Singh) on the other made his 
position untenable. After 15 months of wheeling-dealing and 
manoeuvering, Badal threw in the sponge and resigned on 13 
June 1971. 

Once more Punjab came under President's Rule. The Gover- 
nor and his advisors proceeded to restore normalcy to the State. 
Amongst the measures introduced by the Badal ministry to gain 

43 Gurnam Singh was nominated High Commissioner to Australia. A 
few days after taking charge he was killed in an air crash near Delhi on 
31 May 1973. See also My Days as Governor by D. C. Pavate, p. 138. 

44 Prakash Singh Badal (b. 1927), of village Abulkhurana, (District 
Ferozepur) a wealthy land owner. He joined the Akali Dal and was member 
of the S.G.P.C, or many years. He was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 
1957 and again in 1969 and became a minister. He was thrice Chief 
Minister of Punjab and for a short-term member of the Lok Sabha. He was 
arrested many times in the Akali agitation and during the emergency. He 
was elected to the Punjab legislature in 1957 as a Congress candidate, and, 
before becoming Chief Minister, was arrested for participating in the Suba 

45 My Days as Governor by D.C. Pavate, p. 139. 


Politics of Partition 

the support of the richer peasantry was the abolition of land 
revenue. It caused a loss of Rs 3.5 crores per year to the State. 
The government exempted farmers holding less than 5 acres of 
land but reim posed the levy on those holding more. Arbitrary 
transfers of village teachers made by the Badal ministry were 
cancelled, violent student and Communist (Naxalite) activity 
and large-scale smuggling of contraband like hashish, opium, 
liquor and gold from Pakistan were checked. 

The opposition, which had many scores to settle with Badal 
and his Akali colleagues, alleged improprieties. A commission 
of enquiry w T as set up under Durga Shankar Dave, a retired Chief 
Justice of Rajasthan, to examine them. Badal countered the 
move by demanding that the commission should also examine 
the irregularities committed by the Gurnam Singh ministry. 

While these charges and counter-charges were being traded 
against each other, tension between India and Pakistan once 
more exploded into a war. The Indian army in Bengal, com- 
manded by Lt. General Jagjit Singh Arora, aided by Bangladesh's 
Mukti Bahini guerrillas, made short work of the Pakistanis in the 
east. The Punjab had to bear the brunt of the Pakistani assault. 
Bloody battles were fought around Fazilka, Hussainiw r ala, Dera 
Baba Nanak and Shakargarh. The massive steel bridge over the 
Sutlej at Hussainiwala had to be blown up to prevent Pakistani 
tanks from crossing over. 

The fourteen-day war ended in a resounding Indian victory. 
Most of the credit went to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. She 
was awarded the Bharat Ratna and her popularity among the 
masses rose to an unprecedented height. She sensed that in the 
mood of euphoria that had swept over the country and the 
enormous prestige it had brought her, she could sweep the 
opposition parties off the political map of India. 

The post-war situation in the Punjab was no different than it 
was in the rest of the country. The only opposition party that 
really mattered was the Akali Dal. The Akalis were not only split 
into warring factions but neither the larger Sant Fateh Singh 
group nor the smaller Master Tara Singh group had earned any 
credit by the way they had run the government or behaved 

A State of Their Own 


towards each other. Master Tara Singh was dead; Sant Fat eh 
Singh discredited. The Sant's attempt to whip up Sikh sentiment 
over the government's control of the gurdwaras in Delhi (the 
Akali management had been found guilty of defalcation of large 
sums of money) did not arouse the response he expected. The 
Sant was arre ^d (15 August 1972) and the agitation resulted 
in another 9000 Akalis going to gaol. It partiallv re-established 
the Sant as the leader of the Akalis but did not enhance his 
credibility among the masses. 

The general election in March 1972 shattered the Akali 
political machine: the Congress won 66 seats; their Communist 
allies another 10; the Marxists got 1; Independents 3. The .Akalis 
got only 24 out of the total of 104. The Congress could now afford 
to dispense with the Akalis. On 1 7 March 1972 Giani Zail Singh 48 
was sworn in as Chief Minister. 

Giani Zail Singh's five-year tenure as Chief Minister of the 
Punjab was perhaps the most stable in the history of the State. 
Although a Ramgarhia in a preponderantly J at State, he was able 
to play Jat factions against each other. He enjoved the confi- 
dence of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and was able to run the 
State smoothly, even during the years she imposed the emer- 
gency despite the passive resistance movement sustained by the 
Akalis throughout the period. However, his chief contribution 
was the determined effort he made to break the hegemony of 
the Akali Dal over Sikh politics. He sensed that as long as the 
Akalis controlled the SGPC, had access to its funds and patron- 
age in the appointments of thousands of Sewadars, Gran Granthis 
t his and Ragis, and in the management of the schools, colleges 

46 Giani Zail Singh, born in 1916 in village Sandhwan (Faridkot) is a 
Ramgarhia. He founded the Praja Mandal in the erstwhile state of Faridkot 
and was imprisoned for five years for leading agitations against the Raja. 
He was minister in the PEPSU government, president of the PEPSU 
Pradesh Congress Committee and later president, Punjab Pradesh Con- 
gress Committee. He was Member of the Rajya Sabha 1956—62 and 
elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1970. He was Chief Minister of the 
Punjab during 1972-7. Home Minister iti the Central Government in 1980-2, 
and President of the Republic, 1982-7. 


Politics of Partition 

and hospitals run by it, they would remain the most formidable 
force in the State's politics. He took it upon himself to wrest 
control of the SGPC from the Akalis. The only way he knew of 
going about doing so was to prove to the masses that, though a 
Congressman committed to secularism, he knew more about 
Sikh religion and was a better Sikh than any of the Akali leaders. 
Paradoxically, it was during his tenure as Chief Minister that, 
while the State achieved unprecedented prosperity, it also wit- 
nessed the birth of Sikh religious fundamentalism; this was to 
change the entire basis of the relationship between the Sikhs and 
their fellow countrymen belonging to other faiths, and would 
prevent the Punjab from becoming even more prosperous. 

19. Prosperity and Religious 

The return to traditional religion with greater emphasis on 
ritual than on ethics has become a world-wide phenomenon, 
varying in its manifestations according to conditions prevailing 
in the particular region. Christianity has its born-again Chris- 
tians believing in the gospel as the word of God; Islam its 
Wahabism and Khomeinism that emphasize the letter more 
than the spirit of the Koran and the Hadith. India did not remain 
immune from this resurgence of religious fundamentalism. The 
overwhelming majority of the population (85 per cent) which 
subscribed to one or other form of Hinduism felt that, with 
political independence, the time had come to reassert its 
religious and cultural identity. India's new rulers who chose to 
make it a secular state (which in Indian nomenclature does not 
mean non-religious but one which accords equal respect to all 
religions) nevertheless fully supported the renaissance of Hin- 
duism. It was like the stone idol of the multi-armed goddess 
Durga becoming animated and wielding all the weapons she had 
in her many hands. There was a revival of Sanskrit and the study 
of ancient religious texts; piachirini sabhas (propaganda organi- 
zations) extolling the philosophy of Vedanta sprang up in towns 
and cities; Swamis, Sants, Avtars and other varieties of godmen 
emerged from their ashrams to take the spiritual message of 
Hinduism to the materialistic West; Yoga was rediscovered as 


Politics of Partition 

the supreme form of physical exercise as well as a means of 
communion with God; there was a revival of the indigenous form 
of medicine, Ayurveda; old dilapidated temples were renovated, 
new ones built. Government-controlled media, All India Radio 
and Doordarshan, devoted a substantial part of their time to 
bhajans and religious discourses and re-enacting plays from 
Hindu mythology. These lent fresh vigour to paramilitary Hindu 
organizations like the RSS and the Shiva Sena, 

This development made the minority communities, Muslims, 
Christians and Sikhs, apprehensive of their future* Islam and 
Christianity, which had been stigmatized as non-Indian religions 
receiving sustenance from their foreign co-religionists, became 
equally aggressive in their postures. The Sikhs were in an 
invidious position. They formed a miniscule minority of under 
2 per cent of the population. Most Hindus regarded them as a 
militant wing of Hinduism, differentiated only by the external 
emblems of the Khalsa, the uncut hair and beards of their men. 
Hinduism did not mean to challenge Sikhism or even its Khalsa 
manifestation. The challenge to Sikhism came from the winds 
of modernism and prosperity which swept over the community 
with the Green Revolution. An ever-growing number of young 
Sikhs began to question the need of wearing long hair and 
beards and looked upon them as archaic relics of the past. The 
incidence of apostasy among the more educated and well-to-do 
reached alarming proportions. To many it seemed that within 
the foreseeable future the community would be reabsorbed into 
Hinduism and become like the Jains or the Buddhists, a branch 
of Hindus believing in Sikhism. The development caused an- 
guish in the hearts of the orthodox Khalsa; it also did not suit 
politicians to whom Sikh separateness assured political survival. 

A cursory look at the Punjab after its division, and the 
disposition of the Sikhs following their exodus from what had 
been the homeland of the more prosperous half of the commu- 
nity, will show how the ground was prepared for sowing the seeds 
of separatism and the revival of orthodoxy. 

The immigration of land-based Sikhs, mainly consisting of 
Jats, artisans and lower caste land labourers halted along 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


specified borders in east Punjab; the spillover was accommo- 
dated in the neighbouring Ganganagar district of Rajasthan and 
the Terai region of Uttar Pradesh. Sikh trading communities, 
like their Hindu counterparts, were left to fend for themselves 
in towns and cities where they sensed reasonable prospects for 
business. In this dispersal the land-based section of the commu- 
nity was geographically consolidated whereas the trading classes 
were divided and scattered. Jat Sikhs, who had never held the 
non-agriculturist communities in much esteem, began to treat 
them with unconcealed contempt as second-class Sikhs. Pratap 
Singh Kairon publicly referred to them as Bhapas (brothers), a 
pejorative term for Sikhs of Brahmin, Khatri or Arora extraction. 
This despite the fact that all the Sikhs' ten gurus were Khatris, 
as was Banda Singh Bairagi. Leadership of the Punjabi Sikh 
community passed out of the trading community to the land- 
based — and amongst the land-based it came firmly in the grip 
of those who had been there before the partition rather than the 
emigrants who were dispersed in different districts. The pro- 
cess saw the gradual diminution of the importance of the Majha 
and Doaba, and the rise of the Malwa Sikhs of Ludhiana, Patiala, 
Faridkote and Ferozepur. Post-independence Sikh leaders of 
different political parties were Malwa Jat s; the Akali Dal and the 
SGPC also came under their control. Sikh urban communities 
were marginalized; their main centre of collective activity shifted 
to Delhi. 

The Green Revolution 

Behind the f acade of political wranglings began a silent revolu- 
tion. Its epicentre was the Punjab Agricultural University (PAU) 
at Ludhiana, which was set up in 1962. It was here that the 
visiting Norwegian-American agro-scientist, Norman Borlaug, 1 
and his team of Indian scientists evolved new strains of Mexican 

1 Norman Ernest Borlaug (b.1914) microbiologist of the University of 
Minnesota spent 14 years in Mexico at the Maize and Wheat Improvement 
Centre and several other universities and institutions before he came to 
Ludhiana. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970. 


Politics of Partition 

dwarf wheat and passed the seed on to the farming community. 
With the new variety of seed came modern methods of farming: 
the use of tractors, threshers and harvesters, chemical fertiliz- 
ers and pesticides. Punjab, which was already well provided with 
canal irrigation, dug a record number of tube-wells energized by 
diesel or electricity produced by the Bhakra Nangal hydro-run 
turbines. Punjab's agricultural output began a spectacular up- 
ward climb in the mid-1960s. The yield per acre doubled and 
then trebled. Bumper harvests of wheat were followed by bumper 
harvests of rice from paddy seed developed in Taiwan. There 
were similar increases in sugarcane and cotton. This came to 
be known as the Green Revolution. Its chief propogators as well 
as beneficiaries were Sikh farmers who owned more than 90 per 
cent of Punjab's land under cultivation. 

Ludhiana had been well chosen as the launching pad for the 
agricultural revolution. It was in the most fertile region of the 
Indo-Gangetic plain, with easily tappable and replenishable 
supplies of sub-soil water. Extensive consolidation of holdings 
had been completed by 1961. Although densely populated (773 
persons per square mile), more than 65 per cent of the popu- 
lation was employed in non-agricultural pursuits. The town, 
manufacturing varieties of hosiery, cycles, motor spare parts 
and machine tools, had earned the reputation of being the 
4 small-scale industrial capital of India'. Rural areas were well 
serviced by all-weather roads connecting them to the town's 
industrial complex. The pressure of population on the land was 
comparatively light, as over half (55 per cent) of the cultivable 
area was owned by farmers owning more than twenty acres each. 
They formed 37 per cent of the farming population. Another 43 
per cent owned between ten to twenty acres each. Only 20 per 
cent had holdings of less than ten acres. Ludhiana's rural 
population had the highest rate of literacy (42 per cent) of any 
district in the Punjab. Above all, the peasantry was almost 
entirely Sikh and forward looking. 

In 1965, the Ministry of Agriculture selected Ludhiana as one 
of the districts to try out its Intensive Agricultural Areas Pro- 
gramme (IAAP). The Ford Foundation had earlier prepared a 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


complete 'package of practices' which included easier credit 
facilities, the use of chemical fertilizers, new varieties of seeds, 
pesticides, price incentives and marketing facilities. All these 
were put into operation under the IAAP in Ludhiana. Although 
the overall results were bountiful, they widened the economic 
gulf between the agricultural classes. The larger landholders, 
who had easier access to credit were able to sink more tube- 
wells, buy tractors, use modern inputs and thus treble the output 
from their lands. Medium-sized holders with lesser means were 
barely able to break even. Those who owned less than ten acres 
found farming economically unviable and came under pressure 
to sell their lands. In the initial stages of the Green Revolution, 
land labourers were able to extract higher wages from the 
landlords. The traditional relationship 'that had existed be- 
tween the two over the centuries, by which labourers had re- 
ceived a proportion of the harvest (usually one-twentieth), gave 
way to hard bargaining and payments in cash. As farming got 
more mechanized, landowners began to dispense with farm 
hands: what had been for generations a familial patron-client 
association turned into an adversarial one. Rich landlords be- 
came richer, the marginal became poor; and the landless un- 
wanted on the land. It had been assumed that, while 
mechanization would displace labour, it would open up employ- 
ment opportunities for the landless as tractor drivers and 
mechanics. This was not the way it turned out, as most farmers 
preferred to drive and look after their own vehicles. The number 
of landless unemployed increased. Even ancillary profit-yielding 
pursuits like dairying and poultry-breeding were collared by the 
rich. The seeds of class conflict were sown at the same time as 
those of prosperity. 

In 1969, the Home Ministry published a report, The Causes and 
Nature of the Current Agrarian Conflict, which recorded that over 
80 per cent of the agitations were led by the landless against 
landowners. In her study on the Green Revolution, Frankel 
alludes to the 'growing evidence that as economic disparities 
increase so does the likelihood that social discontent will be 
transformed into political violence by radical parties interested 


Politics of Partition 

in launching a class struggle movement in the countryside.' 2 
Referring specifically to Ludhiana she writes: 'where the major- 
ity of cultivators have economic holdings of 15-20 acres or more 
and have accumulated surpluses from savings or raised capital 
through loans, for investing in minor irrigation and improved 
equipment, the benefits of technology have been most widely, 
albeit still unevenly, shared. Probably only the bottom 20 per cent 
of all farmers, that is, those holding 10 acres or less, have 
experienced a serious relative deterioration of their economic 
position for want of sufficient capital in indivisible inputs (espe- 
cially minor irrigation works) necessary for the profitable adop- 
tion of new techniques/ 3 

Simultaneous with the Green Revolution came the opening up 
of the Middle East and Western countries to emigrants. Since 
the turn of the century, small Sikh communities had existed in 
Canada, the United States, England, Australia and countries on 
the East African coast. Taking advantage of their status as 
citizens of the Commonwealth, thousands of Sikhs emigrated to 
England, Canada and Australia and acquired citizenships. Oth- 
ers, who could, went to the United States. Many more found 
employment in the Arab countries of the Gulf and the Middle 
East. The remittances they sent home helped their families to 
wipe out old debts, buy more land from their less fortunate 
neighbours and build new houses. They sent their children to 
schools and colleges. They acquired radios and TV sets, tele- 
phones and audiovisual equipment, refrigerators and air condi- 
tioners. Their boys learned to ride motorcycles. The well-to-do 
Sikh farmer never had it so good as he did in the 1960s and 
the 1970s. With higher standards of living, their expectations of 
the future were correspondingly raised. In short, the Green 
Revolution brought in its wake a revolution of rising expectations. 

There are other aspects of the Green Revolution which should 
be noted. The price of land shot up well beyond its productive 

2 Francine R. Frankel. India's Green Revolution: Economic Gains and 
Political Costs (Princeton. N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 10. 

3 Ibid., pp. 191-2. 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


capacity. Land owning has always been the most important 
status symbol in agricultural communities. Whatever the farm- 
ers got from remittances from foreign countries or saved from 
wages, or from plying taxis or trucks, they ploughed back into 
their top priority, the acquisition of more land. While the price 
of an acre rose to above a lakh of rupees, its short-term yield 
remained well below what could have been earned as interest 
from a bank or investment in a business venture. Only what was 
left over went into small-scale industries in the neighbourhood. 
Thus, the scope of economic expansion remained within narrow 

At the same time, the sons of farmers who had been to college 
were loath to work on the land and preferred softer white collar 
jobs in the government or private enterprises. They preferred to 
remain idle blowing away the newly acquired wealth. For the 
hard work, well-to-do Sikh farmers turned to poor Hindu labourers 
from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar who began to come to the Punjab 
in the thousands at every harvest season. The number of edu- 
cated Sikhs started going up. While at the time of Independence 
there was only one university with a handful of colleges in what 
later became the Punjabi Suba, by the 1970s there were four 
universities and 150 colleges, each turning out graduates by the 
hundreds every year. 

With unprecedented prosperity came the evils that prosperity 
engenders. The consumption of alcohol and drugs like opium, 
hashish and heroin increased. Young Sikhs began to 'modern- 
ize' themselves by trimming or shaving their beards; many took 
to smoking in contravention of a hallowed religious taboo. 
Pornographic films and literature brought in by returning emi- 
grants replaced religious texts and books of learning. Video 
cassettes and cinemas drew larger audiences than village 
gurdwaras or meetings of village councils. 

The halcvon years of the Green Revolution a ad foreign remit- 
tances did not last very long. After the orgy of prosperity came 
the hangover of overindulgence. The otitput from the land reached 
its optimum plateau stage, and not much more could be ex- 
tracted from it through new seeds, more fecund fertilizers and 


Politics of Partition 

lethal pesticides. With each generation land holdings were 
divided and sub-divided between sons and daughters, till they 
became uneconomical and had to be sold to richer farmers. As 
foreign countries began to impose restrictions on visas and work 
permits, remittances began to decline. Young Sikhs coming out 
of schools and colleges found that there was not enough for them 
to do on the land; they could not go abroad and there was hardly 
any industry in the Punjab that could absorb them. As the 
number of landless increased, so also the numbers of educated 
unemployed began to multiply. 4 They lent one ear to the Marx- 
ists, the other to preachers of religion. In the first round religion 
scored over Marxism because it was able to project itself as a 
purveyor of higher morality and ethics. In the rounds to follow, 
the outcome may be quite different. 

The Sikh religious revival coincided with the Green Revolu- 
tion. The man who got it going was Giani Zail Singh. His motives 
were primarily political, viz., to oust the Akali Dal from the 
SGPC and minimize its importance in the State's politics. The 
Akalis had monopolized the preservation and propagation of 
Sikhism. Zail Singh, as Chief Minister of the State (1972-7) 
wanted to prove that, though he was a member of the Congress 
party committed to secularism, he was a more devout Sikh than 
the Akalis. The movement to assert Sikh identity had been 

4 The Punjab Agricultural University, Ludhiana, published in 1987 a 
study of 'Rural Employment' in the Punjab in the years 1984-5. Its findings 
were most revealing: (i) that 35.55 per cent of the educated in 1984 and 
1985 were unemployed; (ii) of the aspirants for jobs 16.74 per cent of the 
educated spent more than four years and 40.50 per cent more than two 
years in search of employment; (iii) the average Punjabi worker was 
employed only 323 days, in the year; (iv) subsidiary occupations were 
available for only 93 days in the year; (v) 38 per cent of the workers worked 
less than 200 hours per month, that is, only about five hours per day. 

It concluded that 'the acutest problem of unemployment was found in 
the age group between 15-30 years. In the case of educated persons, the 
highest underemployment recorded was in the matriculate category of 
educated persons where about 50 per cent worked for less than 200 hours 
per month. 8.48 per cent were almost unemployed as their actual employ- 
ment was about two hours per day.' 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


started in 1967 and 1969 when the tricentenary and quincentary 
celebrations of Guru Gobind Singh and Guru Nanak were orga- 
nized on an international scale. The Giani gave a further fillip 
to the movement by organizing in 1973 the centenary celebra- 
tions of the founding of the Singh Sabha, and in 1975 by 
tricentary celebrations of the martyrdom of Guru Tegh Bahadur. 
These were followed by preparations for the bicentenary celebra- 
tions of the birth anniversary 7 of Maharajah Ranjit Singh. Giani 
Zail Singh was also responsible for the founding of the Guru 
Nanak Dev University in Amritsar. Several state-run hospitals 
were renamed after the gums. He organized Kiiian Durbars all 
over the State; public functions began with an ardas (invoca- 
tions); the 400 km of road running from Anandpur to Patiala 
linking many historic gurdwaras was renamed Guru Gobind 
Singh Marg; a string of horses said to be descendants of the 
Guru's stallion were led down this road; villagers reverently 
collected their droppings to take home; a new township, Shaheed 
Baba Ajit Singh Nagar, was named after one of the Guru's 
martyred sons. Giani Zail Singh displayed even greater religious 
fervour when the Akalis wrested power from him and formed a 
government in collaboration with the Janata Party. He began to 
pay homage to Sikh holy men and passed the baton of religious 
revival on to them. 

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale 

The institution of the sant (saint) is widespread. To their deras 
(hospices) come people seeking solace and advice on spiritual 
as well as temporal problems. Many sants have earned reknown 
for piety and their deras are handsomely endowed by grateful 
patrons. In recent years one that rose to pre-eminence was the 
Damdami Taksal. In 1906 the taksal was shifted to the village 
of Bhinder (in Moga tehsil), after which its incumbents were 
known as Bhindranwale. 5 

5 Damdama Sahib at Talwandi Sabo in Patiala was the place where 
the last Sikh Guru, Gobind Singh, rested awhile eluding his pursuers 
(hence Dam, resting or gaining a second wind) and completed the final 


Politics of Partition 

The Damdami Taksal at Bhinder gained prestige in the time 
of Sant Gurbachan Singh. When Gurbachan Singh died his 
succession was disputed between two followers, Mohan Singh, 
and Kartar Singh. Mohan Singh, supported by an Akali Minister, 
managed to take over the Bhinder taksal. His rival, Kartar Singh, 
set up his own taksal at Chowk Mehta near Amritsar. When Kartar 
Singh was killed in a car accident in August 1971, the congrega- 
tion by consensus elected Jarnail Singh, who had been Kartar 
Singh's favourite disciple, to be his successor in preference to 
his son, Amrik Singh. Instead of resenting the choice, Amrik 
Singh became a confidante and collaborator of Jarnail Singh and, 
later, head of the All-India Sikh Students Federation (AISSF). 

Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, born in the village of Rode in 
Faridkote district in 1947, was the youngest son in a family of 
eight children. His father was originally a poor Brar Jat peasant 
farmer, Joginder Singh. It was poverty as much as religious 
fervour that persuaded Joginder Singh to donate his son, then 
only seven years old, to the Damdami Taksal at Chowk Mehta. 
Jarnail Singh received little formal education apart from learn- 
ing passages of the Granth by rote and acquiring an elementary 
knowledge of Sikh mythology. These enabled him to establish 
a rapport with the largely illiterate and semi-literate Sikh peas- 
antry which understood the language he spoke. To start with, his 
message was simple: return to the spartan traditions of the 
Khalsa Panth initiated by Guru Gobind Singh and renounce the 
evils of modernism. He toured villages exhorting people to give 
up drinking, taking drugs, smoking and dishonouring emblems 
of the faith (unshorn hair and beards) by cutting them. Those 
who agreed to do so he baptized (or rebaptized) in the presence 
of large congregations. His strongest supporters at the time 
were women and children who had suffered at the hands of their 
drunken or doped fathers, husbands or brothers. Bhindranwale' s 
amrit prachar (propaganda through the nectar of baptism) was 

recension of the Holy Granth. Its first head was Baba Deep Singh who was 
killed after slaying one of the desecrators of the Harimandir. His shrine 
is on the southern Parikarma of the Golden Temple. 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


a resounding success. Adults in their thousands took oaths in 
public to abjure liquor, tobacco and drugs and were baptized. 
Video cassettes showing blue films, and cinema houses lost out 
to the village gurdwara. Men not only saved money they had 
earlier squandered in self-indulgence, but now worked longer 
hours on their lands and raised better crops. They had much to 
be grateful for to Jarnail Singh who came to be revered by them 
as Baba Sant Jarnail Singhji Khalsa Bhindranwale. 

Bhindranwale expanded his role from that of a preacher to 
a settler of disputes. Peasants who had wasted years in litigation 
and paying lawyers, came to him for help. The parents of women 
pestered for dowries sought his intervention. His retinue of 
armed followers ensured that his verdicts were carried out. 
What won him the greatest acclaim was that, unlike other 
preachers who paid lip service to the Sikh ideal of a casteless 
society, Bhindranwale made no distinction between higher and 
lower castes and treated the lowest castes of Sikh untouchables 
as members of his fraternity. 

Bhindranwale' s reputation grew. He was tall, wiry, long-nosed, 
with deep-set, suspicious eyes. He sported a beard that flowed 
down to his navel and he added to his image by wearing across 
his chest a bandolier charged with bullets, with pistols in hol- 
sters on either side of his hips. In his hand he carried a silver 
arrow of the kind carried by Guru Gobind Singh and Maharajah 
Ranjit Singh. He exhorted Sikhs to be shastradhari (bearers of 
arms) which, in addition to the traditional kirpan, now included 
modern weapons like pistols, revolvers and rifles; and instead 
of the horses their ancestors had ridden, to ride motorcycles. He 
was no great orator, but his rough, rustic vocabulary was fiill of 
disparaging references to Hindus as dhotian wale (dhoti wear- 
ers), topian wale (cap wearers); and references to Mrs Gandhi 
as Bahmani (Brahmin woman) and Panditan di dhee (daughter of 
Pandits) went down well with his audiences. He provided excel- 
lent copy for journalists. He acquired the charisma of an acerbic- 
tongued saint-warrior. 

Sikh fundamentalism, of which Bhindranwale became the 
messiah, had a lot in common with similar movements in other 


Politics of Partition 

religious communities. As elsewhere, so in the Punjab of the 
1960s and 1970s, there was the apprehension of an uncertain 
future gnawing into the vitals of the rootless section of Sikh rural 
classes for which there seemed to be no rational panaceas. In 
the turbulent sea of contending tides, Bhindranwale stood as a 
lighthouse built on the solid rock of faith sending out powerful 
beams of light piercing the engulfing darkness. He was not 
bothered with subtle points of theology; he had his list of do's 
and donVs clearly set out in bold letters. He took those pas- 
sages from the sacred texts which suited his purpose and 
ignored or glossed over others that did not. He well understood 
that hate was a stronger passion than love: his list of hates 
was even more clearly and boldly spelt out. On top of the hate- 
list were apostates (patits) who dishonoured emblems of the 
Khalsa by cutting their long hair and beards, smoked, drank 
liquor or took drugs. However, these patits could be redeemed 
if they agreed to mend their ways, and accept baptism. Next 
on the list were Sant Nirankaris who had gained a sizeable 
following among the Sikhs. They had committed the cardinal 
sin of recognizing a living human being as their guru when it 
was an article of Sikh faith that only the holy book, the Granth 
Sahib, was the 'living' embodiment of the ten gurus. The Sant 
Nirankaris had also fabricated their own sacred texts, Yug 
Purush and Av tar Banl. They were therefore beyond forgiveness 
or redemption and had to be liquidated. Finally, there were the 
Hindus — uncomfortably close to the Sikhs, and far too many to 
be liquidated. The only way of dealing with them was to treat 
them with contempt as an effeminate, non-martial race and a 
lesser breed without the law. Had not the tenth guru, Gobind 
Singh, proclaimed that one Sikh was equal to a sava lakh (one 
and a quarter million) and a fauj — a one-man army? So spoke 
Bhindranwale: one Sikh could easily reckon with thirty-five 
Hindus. 6 

6 'It comes to 35 and not even 100. Divide 66 crores, then each Sikh 
gets only 35 Hindus, not even the 36th. How do you say you are weak?' 
Taped recording speech with the author; also quoted in White Paper on the 
Punjab Agitation, p. 163. 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


To Bhindranwale modernity was evil; the Sikhs must return 
to the simple ways of their warrior forefathers. They must look 
like them: wear their beards loose and not rolled up and tied 
under their chins; they must wear long shirts, below knee-length 
breeches (kucchas) covering their shins. Likewise, Sikh women 
should not drape themselves in sarees which were Hindu, but 
in salwar-kameez. (baggy trousers and long shirts) which are 
Punjabi, nor wear bindis (dots) on their foreheads. His newborn 
Khalsa were to be-god-like {saabat soorat gar Sikh), while the 
rest of the world was ungodly — and woe to the ungodly! The 
newborn Khalsa were the Gurus' storm troopers who would 
trample their foes under their bare feet like so much vermin. 
It was a heady brew that Bhindranwale served to simple-minded 
Sikh peasants. 

It was after politicians discovered Bhindranwale' s enormous 
popularity and began to flatter him with their attentions that 
hubris entered the soul of the rustic preacher and he became 
even more arrogant and overbearing, convinced of his invinci- 

Among the earliest to discover Bhindranwale 's potential as 
a pawn in the game of party politics was Giani Zail Singh, his 
arch rival Darbara Singh, and through them, Mrs Gandhi's 
politically ambitious son, Sanjay Gandhi. The Akalijanata 
government under Prakash Singh Badal had instituted an 
enquiry against Zail Singh for misuse of authority while he was 
Chief Minister. As President of the Provincial Congress Com- 
mittee he aimed at negating the findings of the commission 
against him, ousting the Akali government from power and 
breaking the Akali Dai's stranglehold over the SGPC. Both 
Zail Singh and Darbara Singh courted Bhindranwale and 
encouraged him to put up candidates, including Amrik Singh, 
against the Akalis in the SGPC elections of 1979. Of the forty 
candidates Bhindranwale put up, all but four were defeated. 
It was evident that whatever his popularity as a preacher, till 
then he did not count for very much in Sikh politics. But his 
political potential had been spotted by both the Congress and 
the Akali parties. With these formidable political forces vying 


Politics of Partition 

with each other to win him over to their side, Bhindranwale could 
not lose. 7 

Until 13 April 1978, few people outside Punjab had heard of 
Bhindranwale. From that day till his death six years later (June 
1984), his name was rarely absent from the front pages of the 
national newspapers. He had pronounced damnation on the 
breakaway Sant Nirankari subsect, 8 then under the guruship of 
Baba Gurbachan Singh. Pleas to the government to proscribe 
their two religious texts, Yug Punish and Avtar Bani, had been 
of no avail. Bhindranwale took it upon himself to exterminate 
them. When they announced that they would hold their annual 
convention on Punjab's New Year's day, the first day of Baisakh 
(13 April) at Amritsar, Bhindranwale proclaimed that he would 
not allow the meeting to take place. The Akali Janata govern- 
ment under Badal neither forbade the Sant Nirankari meeting 
nor took pre-emptive action against Bhindranwale to prevent 
his disrupting it. A procession led by the Akhand Kirtani Jatha 
and Bhindranwale* s followers was allowed to march from the 
Golden Temple through the main bazars of the city to the venue 
of the Sant Nirankari convention. The Sant Nirankaris had 
prepared themselves for trouble. In the clash of arms that 
ensued, seventeen men, mostly belonging to the Akhand Kirtani 

7 According to Kuldip Nayar, Sanjay Gandhi, Mrs Gandhi's younger son 
who was actively engaged in political manoeuvering, had approved of Zail 
Singh's choice of Bhindranwale as the more aggressive of the two sants 
suggested to him to be put up against the Akalis. The other did not look 
a 'courageous type', Sanjay Gandhi's friend Kamal Nath, MP, told Nayar. 
'We would give him (Bhindranwale) money off and on,' he added (Tragedy 
of Punjab, p. 31). Bhindranwale also supported Congress candidates like 
Gurdial Singh Dhillon, R. I. Bhatia and Mrs Bhinder, wife of the Punjab 
commissioner of police in their election campaigns. 

8 This sub-sect, led by one Buta Singh had broken away from its parent 
body and described itself as Sant Nirankaris. They gained a larger follow- 
ing than the parent body. Buta Singh was succeeded by Avtar Singh. On 
Avtar Singh's death in 1963, his son Gurbachan Singh was installed as 
Guru. After his murder in 1980, his son Hardev Singh became head of (he 
sect. On 10 June 1978 an order of excommunication was pronounced on the 
Sant Nirankaris from the Akal Takht. 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


Jatha, including one Fauja Singh, were killed. Bhindranwale had 
stayed behind in the Golden Temple. Fauja Singh's widow, 
Amaijeet Kaur, accused Bhindranwale of cowardice. However, 
his name was amongst those suspected by the police of pro- 
voking the clash. In the trial that followed, all Sant Nirankaris, 
including Baba Gurbachan Singh, were acquitted on the grounds 
that they had acted in self-defence. 

Bhindranwale began to openly espouse the cult of violence. On 
24 April 1980, Baba Gurbachan Singh Nirankari and his body- 
guard were gunned down at their headquarters in Delhi. The 
killers escaped. The Central Bureau of Investigation which 
lodged the first information report named twenty persons, many 
of them followers of Bhindranwale, and accused Bhindranwale 
of 'hatching the conspiracy for murder'. Giani Zail Singh, who 
was then Home Minister in the central government, refuted the 
police version of Bhindranwale' s involvement; Barbara Singh, 
then Chief Minister of Punjab, also did not find it necessary to 
proceed against him. 9 

A year later (9 September 1981) Lala Jagat Narain, pro- 
prietor of the Hind Samachar group of papers, including the new 
Jugbani in Gurmukhi published from Jullundur, was gunned down 

9 Arun Shourie, a distinguished journalist and later chief editor of the 
Indian Express wrote in the issue of 10 July 1981 'though the CBI, has solved 
the murder case of the Nirankari guru, Baba Gurbachan Singh, and his aide 
last year, it is almost certain that the killers will never be arrested because 
they are alleged to be in the protection of Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, 
in the Amritsar district of Punjab. Besides, the State police is not prepared 
to involve itself in the case by arresting the culprits.' 

Repeated pleas by the Lt. Governor of Delhi to the Punjab Chief 
Minister, Darbara Singh, and the letters written by the director of the C.B.I, 
to the Punjab government for help have been of no avail. The present Lt. 
Governor of Delhi, Mr S. L. Khurana, has again written to the Punjab Chief 
Minister, pleading for the arrest of the suspects. The director of the C.B.I, 
also wrote to the State government about ten days ago urging it to help the 
C.B.I, by arresting the culprits and taking away their arms. But the State 
government has not even acknowledged the letter. The C.B.I, has almost 
completed the investigations and 1 1 persons who are suspected in this case 
have been declared as proclaimed offenders...' Quoted in Illustrated Weekly 
of India, 17-23 June 1984, p. 11. 


Politics of Partition 

on the Grand Trunk Road. As secretary of the Congress party 
in Punjab he had exhorted Punjabi Hindus to declare Hindi as 
their mother tongue, written in favour of the Sant Nirankaris and 
criticized the Akali and Congress governments for their 
pussilanimity in dealing with Bhindranwale. The first informa- 
tion report had Bhindranwale' s name among the list of suspects. 
Instead of arresting him, Chief Minister Darbara Singh an- 
nounced over All India Radio that warrants for his arrest had 
been issued. At that time Bhindranwale happened to be in the 
village of Chand Kalan in Haryana. The Haryana police did not 
think it was their business to arrest him. His entourage, led by 
a police car, drove leisurely from Haryana througli the Punjab, 
taking all of seven days to cover 300 km to their headquarters 
at Chowk Mehta. Bhindranwale himself announced the day, time 
and place when he would make himself available to the Punjab 
police. This was on 20 September 1981 and before a vast 
concourse of admirers, which included Sant Longowal, Tohra 
andjathedar Santokh Singh of Delhi. His followers clashed with 
the police; seventeen men were killed. Instead of putting 
Bhindranwale in a police lockup, the State government lodged 
him in a Circuit House meant for ministers of government and 
senior bureaucrats. On the Akali leaders' insistence, he was set 
at liberty a few days later on 15 October. This could not have 
been done without the intercession of the Home Minister, Zail 
Singh, after he had got the sanction of Prime Minister Indira 
Gandhi. Bhindranwale emerged as a hero. He denied complicity 
in the murders of Baba Gurbachan Singh and Lalajagat Narain 
but expressed enthusiastic approval of their stayings. 'Whoso- 
ever performed these great feats deserves to be honoured by the 
Akal Takht,' he announced publicly. Tf these killers came to me, 
I would have them weighed in gold/ On 9 November 1981 an 
explosion took place in the Chowk Mehta gurdwara in which 
three inmates lost their lives. For three hours Bhindranwale 
refused to let the police enter the premises and then allowed in 
only officers he approved of. 

Home Minister Zail Singh accused Chief Minister Darbara 
Singh of inaction. On 22 December 1981 Jathedar Santokh 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


Singh of Delhi was murdered by a rival. At his obsequial 
ceremonies Bhindranwale was present. Also present were Giani 
Zail Singh, Minister Buta Singh and Rajiv Gandhi. A few months 
later (March 1982) Bhindranwale, with truck loads of armed 
followers, toured several cities of India, including New Delhi. It 
was Darbara Singh's turn to accuse Zail Singh of deliberately 
refusing to apprehend Bhindranwale and disarm his followers, 
most of whom carried firearms without licences. 

It was not till after the middle of the following year that the 
central government realized that it could not manipulate 
Bhindranwale and instructed Darbara Singh, Chief Minister of 
the Punjab, to take decisive action against him. By then 
Bhindranwale had added Hindu-baiting to his other activities. 
Heads of cows were thrown in Hindu temples and idols dam- 
aged. In return, Hindus desecrated Sikh gurdwaras by throwing 
cigarettes in their courtyards, burning copies of the Granth and 
destroying a portrait of Guru Ram Das and a replica of the 
Golden Temple placed at Amritsar railway station. Bhindranwale 
organized a large demonstration demanding a ban on the sale 
of tobacco in Amritsar. Local Hindus retaliated by taking out a 
procession chanting slogans like cigarette, beedie peeyengay: hum 
shaan say jeeyengey — 'we will smoke cigarettes and beedies; we 
will live a grand life.' Bhindranwale discovered that fomenting 
hatred between the two communities was the easier method of 
preserving the Sikhs' separate identity from the Hindu than 
amrit prachar. He became even more offensive in his references 
to the Hindus. He also sensed that by now both Zail Singh and 
Darbara Singh were eager to disown him and prove their loyalty 
to the government by advocating that stronger measures be 
taken against him. He denounced them as Tndira's touts — 
these Sikhs fill their stomachs by licking the dust off Indira's 
chappals.' lu 

The arrests on 19 July 1982 of his close associates Amrik 
Singh and Thara Singh on charges of attempted murder, left no 
doubt in Bhindranw ale's mind that it would not be long before 

10 30 April 1983, p. 21. 


Politics of Partition 

the police came for him. 11 He moved out from Chowk Mehta to 
the Golden Temple. The Akalis, whose nahar roko (stop the 
canal) agitation at Patti in Patiala was not going too well, 
welcomed him and put him up at Guru Nanak Nivas, adjacent 
to the offices of the SGPC in the Temple complex. They also 
agreed to include the release of Amrik Singh and Thara Singh 
among their demands. Bhindranwale accepted Sant Longowal 
as dictator of the Dharam Yudh (battle for righteousness) launched 
on 4 August 1982. 

Bhindranwale' s arrival in the Golden Temple put zest in the 
flagging Akali morcha (see the next chapter for more details). 
He had never subscribed to Gandhian methods of protest but 
willingly lent his name to them without abjuring the path of 
violence. The Akalis, on the other hand, displayed an ambiva- 
lence unworthy of the descendants of men and women who had 
won heroic battles to gain possession of their gurdwaras by 
exemplary displays of the efficacy of passive resistance. The 
Dharam Yudh volunteers suffered little inconvenience, apart 
from being kept in jail for a few months or days (often a few 
hours); their leaders kept silent over the acts of brigandage 
perpetrated by Bhindranwale's supporters. 'He is our danda 
(stave) with which to beat the government,' 12 said Sant Longowal. 
The danda fell indiscriminately on the heads of people who 
Bhindranwale disapproved of. A few days after he had taken 
residence in the Temple complex, an attempt was made on the 
life of Chief Minister Darbara Singh (22-3 July 1982); on 4 
August 1982 an Indian Airlines plane with 1 26 passengers aboard 
was hijacked to Pakistan. It was not allowed to land and came 
back to Amritsar where the hijackers gave themselves up. A 
fortnight later (August 20) another plane was hijacked. It was 
refused permission to land at Lahore and the hijacker was shot 
dead when it finally landed. The same day another attempt was 
made on the life of the chief minister; he escaped unhurt, but 
eighteen others, including his education minister, were injured. 

1 1 Amrik Singh and Thara Singh were subsequently acquitted. 

12 Interview with the author, 4 August 1982. 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


On 11 September 1982 a bus-load of Akali volunteers being 
transported to jail was hit by a train at an unmanned level 
crossing, resulting in 34 deaths and injuries to 21. Akali leaders 
accused the government of deliberate murder and a month later 
brought the ashes of those killed in a procession to Parliament 
House in Delhi and clashed with the police. Hardly a day passed 
without killings, bank robberies, or the looting of arms from 
state armouries. The most audacious of such crimes took place 
on the morning of 25 April 1983 when A. S. Atwal, Deputy Inspec- 
tor General of police, having said his prayers at the Temple, 
was shot dead at the main entrance as he was leaving. The 
murder was witnessed by scores of armed policemen on duty at 
the gate as well as hundreds of worshippers. The assailant 
leisurely walked down the bazar before going back to the Temple 
without anyone daring to pursue him. Instead of suspending the 
agitation till violence had abated, Akali leaders opened up new 
fronts: the naharroko (stop the canal) was followed by rasta roko 
(block roads) on 4 April 1983, to rail roko (17 June) , to kaam roko 
(stop work) on 29 August. At the same time 'hit lists' of people 
marked for destruction began to circulate. 13 Amongst the tar- 
gets was Virendra, editor of the Daily Pratap of Jullundur: a parcel 
bomb addressed to him killed two of his employees. The most 
dastardly of this unending succession of crimes took place 
on the night of 5 October 1983 when a bus travelling from 
Amritsar to Delhi was hijacked near the village of Dhilwan; six 
Hindu passengers were off-loaded and gunned down. 14 It be- 
came evident that Darbara Singh was unable to cope with the 
increasing tide of violence. The next day (6 October 1983) his 

13 Apart from Bhindranwale's supporters and the Babbar Khalsa, 
several gangs of terrorists had by then come into existence. 

14 Sant Longowal and some Akali leaders expressed regret over the 

An appeal to Longowal to persuade the high priest of the takhts to 
declare killers of innocent people rannkhyas (excommunicated) was stalled 
by G. S. Tohra, who fell that blanket excommunication would amount to 
condemning the entire community. Longowal only expressed his sorrow 
over the incident. 


Politics of Partition 

government was dismissed and the State brought under 
President's Rule. 

Bhindranwale regarded Darbara Singh's downfall as a per- 
sonal triumph and became even more intemperate in his utter- 
ances. Tensions began to build up between different groups in 
the Temple complex. On one side was Sant Longowal represent- 
ing the less vociferous majority which included P. S. Badal's 
supporters: they disapproved of violence and were in favour of 
arriving at some settlement with the government. On the other 
side was Bhindranwale and the equally violent Babbar Khalsa 
and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, fiercely antagonistic towards 
each other but fired with the same ideology of establishing a 
separate Sikh state. If they failed to persuade the Sikh masses 
to their point of view, they would achieve their goal by terrorizing 
Punjabi Hindus into leaving the Punjab and thereby provoke 
Hindus in other parts of India to drive out Sikhs living among 
them and force them to return to the Punjab. If thereby they 
succeeded in changing communal ratios in the state from 60 
per cent Sikh and 40 per cent Hindu to 80 per cent or over of 
Sikhs, then they would have at least succeeded in achieving a 
de facto Khalistan. 

While Bhindranwale had contempt for LongowaFs Akalis and 
a personal animus against Badal, he dreaded the Babbar Khalsa 
and the Akhand Kirtani Jatha. For some months the three 
factions lived in close proximity in the serais adjoining the offices 
of the SGPC on the eastern end of the Temple complex. There 
was frequent exchange of abuse and fisticuffs. Sant Longowal 
threatened to quit unless Bhindranwale was expelled from the 
Temple. Bhindranwale refused to oblige because he knew that 
once he left the sanctuary, the police would arrest him. Tohra 
as president of the SGPC was responsible for the maintainance 
of peace in the Temple. He pressurised a very reluctant Gyani 
Kirpal Singh to let Bhindranwale and his followers occupy the 
upper stories of the Akal Takht, of which the Gyani was then 
Head Priest. Bhindranwale moved to the Akal Takht with his 
retinue of gunmen, which included the retired Major General 
Shahbeg Singh, who agreed to train his men in the use of modern 

Prosperity and Religious Fundamentalism 


weapons, 15 and another retired Major General, Jaswant Singh 

Bhindranwale began to accumulate arms and fortify the Akal 
Takht. It was not only the forces of the Indian government he had 
to contend with, but also those of the Babbar Khalsa and the 
militant Akalis. He made no secret of his dislike for Sant 
Longowal, whom he derided as another Gandhi and his resi- 
dence as Gandhi Niwas while his own was called Shakti Niwas 
(abode of strength). Bhindranwale and Sant Longowal contin- 
ued to pursue their different paths. On 12 April 1984 Harbans 
Lai Khanna (an ex-MLA) and president of the district Janata 
Party, w T as slain in Amritsar. At his funeral the next day there 
was a Hindu-Sikh clash in which eight men lost their lives. The 
same day (3 April), Vishwanath Tiwari, an MP and professor, 
of Punjabi literature, was shot dead in his home in Chandigarh. 16 
On 14 April one Surinder Singh Sodhi, whom Bhindranwale 
described as his brother, w T as shot by a woman companion at 
a tea stall outside the Temple. The next day the woman's 
mutilated body was found in a gutter. Bhindranwale boasted of 
having avenged Sodhi's murder within twenty-four hours. On 12 
May 1984 Ramesh Chandra, who had succeeded his father, Jagat 
Narain, as editor of the Hind Samachar group, was murdered in 
his office in Jullundur. 17 Not to be outdone in adventurism, Sant 

15 Shahbeg Singh, a Jat Sikh, had a distinguished career in the Indo 
Pakistan war of 1971 when he trained the Mukti Bahini guerilias. However, 
during his posting in Madhya Pradesh, he was court-martialled, found guilty 
of corruption, stripped of his rank and cashiered. He joined the Akali's 
Dharam Yudh Morcha before becoming Bhindranwale' s chief military 
adviser. He was killed in Operation Blue Star. 

16 Dr Tiwari held the Bhai Vir Singh Chair of Punjabi literature at 
Chandigarh University. He wrote a book in praise of Mrs Gandhi's emer- 
gency regime and was nominated to the Rajya Sabha. His stenographer, 
Manmohan Singh, was the chief functionary of the Dal Khalsa set up on 
3 August 1978 with the blessings of Giani Zail Singh. It later joined the 

17 Other notable crimes committed at this period inc luded the murders 
of Squadron Leader Paramjeet Singh and Sumeet Singh, the editor of Preet 
Lari on 22 February 1984 and the killing of four Hindu passengers on a bus 
on 21 May 1984. 


Politics of Partition 

Longowal announced that from 3 June 1984 (the martyrdom 
anniversary of Guru Arjun) , Sikhs should launch a non-coopera- 
tion agitation against the government by refusing to pay land- 
revenue, water and electricity bills and prevent the movement 
of food grains out of the Punjab. Advised by her new set of young 
counsellors, Mrs Gandhi decided that the time had come for 
reckoning with the Akalis and Bhindranwale. 

20. The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 
and Other Akali Demands 

In order to understand what made the Akalis and the govern- 
ment embark on a collision course it is necessary to go back 
a few years and examine demands made by the Akalis from time 
to time and the central government's response to them. The 
Punjabi Suba had been conceded in 1966, but Chandigarh 
remained a Union Territory shared as a capital by both Punjab 
and Haryana. Punjabi-speaking villages contiguous to Punjab 
still remained with the neighbouring states. The central govern- 
ment continued to control canal headworks and made arbitrary 
allocations of water of the Sutlej, Ravi and Beas which had 
fallen to India's share by the Indus Waters Treaty of 1960. The 
government's tardiness in resolving these basic issues gave the 
Akalis grounds to charge it of being anti-Sikh. They assiduously 
cultivated a discrimination complex and kept adding to their list 
of demands. On its part, the central government, instead of 
conceding what was legitimately asked for, adopted delaying 
tactics, thus forcing the Akalis to launch a succession of passive 
resistance movements which often escalated into violence. Along- 
side the peaceful morcas grew terrorism which the police 
countered by brutal repression, often killing innocent people in 
staged encounters and torturing suspects. Police methods proved 
counter-productive and brought more recruits to terrorist groups. 

The most comprehensive charter of demands made by the 
Akalis on behalf of the Sikhs was formulated in what came to 


Politics of Partition 

be known as the Anandpur Sahib Resolution of 1973. There are 
at least three versions of the resolution in circulation which Akali 
leaders interpret differently. Some, like Sant Fateh Singh, held 
the view that the Punjabi Suba was in fact all they wanted in 
addition to Chandigarh and contiguous Punjabi-speaking vil- 
lages, and that this had been substantially conceded in 1966. 
Others interpreted the Resolution as a demand for an autono- 
mous Sikh-dominated state within the Indian Union. And yet 
others construed it as a demand for an independent, sovereign 
Sikh state to be named Khalistan. 

The inspiration for framing Sikh demands in a formal reso- 
lution came from Kapur Singh, a product of Oxford University 
and, for some years, a member of the Indian Civil Service. On 
his dismissal on charges of corruption, he became a bitter critic 
of the government, joined the Akali party to become its one-man 
think tank and was elected on its ticket to Parliament. He made 
his personal grievance into a community grievance and never 
ceased from accusing the government of discriminating against 
the Sikhs. It was he who declared Sikhs to be 'sui generis a free 
and sovereign people' and persuaded his party to demand a 
'self-determined political status' 1 for the Sikhs. His draft was 
in English. He explained its purpose and contents to Sant Fateh 
Singh, then head of the Akali Dal. Fateh Singh, who knew no 
language except Punjabi, nodded his approval. Kapur Singh's 
draft was based on the assumption that the Sikhs, being a 
chosen people (Rajjati), were predestined to rule. Master Tara 
Singh had held somewhat the same view when he said that Sikhs 
could either be rulers or rebels. 

At the time the Resolution was adopted at Anandpur in 1973 
it did not attract much attention. Kapur Singh was regarded as 
an embittered eccentric given to militant posturings and some- 
thing of a maverick politician. Not much was heard of the 
Resolution for the next three years until August 1977, when Gyani 
Ajmer Singh, secretary of the Akali Dal, released another 

1 Jaswant Singh Mann, Some Documents on the Demand for the Sikh Home- 
land, Chandigarh, 1969, p. 35. 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


version of a 'draft of the new policy programme' of the party at 
Amritsar. This policy programme was based on Kapur Singh's 
original draft and finalized by a committee consisting, among 
others, of Prakash Singh Badal (then Chief Minister of Punjab) , 
Gurcharan Singh Tohra, 2 President of the SGPC, Surjit Singh 
Barnala 3 and Balwant Singh. 4 It was presented at the eighteenth 
session of the All-India Akali Conference at Ludhiana on 28-9 
October 1978, presided over by Jagdev Singh Talwandi: 5 It was 
proposed by Tohra, seconded by Badal and passed without 
dissent. Chandrashekhar, leader of the Janata Party, who was 
present at the conference, had nothing to say about it. Congress 

2 Gurcharan Singh, born 1919, in the village of Tohra is a Gilljat. He 
studied up to the tenth class but did not take his matriculation examination. 
He started his political career as a communist before joining the Akali 
Dal. He was a member of Parliament from 1967-72 and was again elected 
in 1977. He was a member of the Rajya Sabha for three terms and was 
elected president of the SGPC for twenty successive years. He has been 
in and on of jail many times. 

3 Surjit Singh is a Dhaliwal Jat born in the village of Atali (District 
Gurgaon) in 1925. He practised law for some years before entering politics. 
He was elected to the Punjab Assembly on an Akali ticket and was 
Education Minister in the Gurnam Singh ministry. He spent eighteen 
months in jail during the emergency. In 1977 he was elected to the Lok 
Sabha from Sangrur and became Agriculture Minister in the Janata 
government. He was detained under NASA for 9 months for burning the 
constitution. After the assassination of Sant Longowal he was elected 
president of the Akali Dal. He was Chief Minister of the Punjab during 
1985-7. He is also a talented landscape painter. 

4 Balwant Singh, born 1929, in the village of Saidpur (Kapurthala) is 
a Kambhoj. He has an MA degree in economics and an LLB, He started 
his political career as a member of the Congress party and after losing 
his first election succeeded in getting elected in 1962; he later joined the 
Akali Dal. He has been a Minister of Finance in the Punjab and is generally 
regarded as a shrewd but unreliable politician chiefly interested in making 

5 jagdev Singh, born 1927, is a Gilljat from the village of Talwandi 
(District Ludhiana) . He has studied up to class six. In 1970 he was minister 
of state in the Gurnam Singh ministry and later in the Badal ministry. In 
1976 he was a elected to the Lok Sabha and, later, to the Rajya Sabha. 
He supports the demand for Khalistan. 


Politics of Partition 

leaders also did not react, to it. The Communist Party (Marxist), 
which ruled West Bengal and had been clamouring for greater 
autonomy, saw nothing against Akalis making similar demands 
for the Punjab. Apart from the BJP, only the Communist Party 
of India (CPI) expressed disapproval inasmuch as it felt that the 
kind of autonomy the Akalis were asking for would lead to the 
disintegration of the country. 

Controversy over the exact wording of the resolution did not 
end and different factions of the Akalis continued to interpret 
its provisions as it suited them. Sant Harchand Singh Longowal, h 
as President of the Akali Dal, issued an 'authentic version' of 
the resolution which he sent to members of both houses of the 
Indian Parliament. 7 In a short introduction, he claimed that the 
Resolution was 'nothing more than a device to guard against the 
danger of further encroachments' through 'repeated and ill- 
conceived amendments of the Constitution by which provincial 
powers had been curtailed' by the Central Government against 
the spirit of a truly federal constitution. He denied categorically 
that the Resolution envisaged a separate or even an autonomous 
Sikh state and was only meant for better readjustment of Centre- 
State relations. 

The Anandpur Resolution acquired the status of a Magna 
Carta of Sikh demands as seen by its most important political 
party. The preamble asserts that 'the Shiromani Akali Dal is the 

6 Harchand Singh (1934-85) was a Diyajat from the village of Gideryani 
(District Sangrur) . He had very little formal education and was the village 
Granthi and an Akali worker till he was inducted into politics by Master 
Tara Singh in 1960. He was elected to the Punjab Assembly in 1967- He was 
made 'dictator' of the morca against the emergency (1975-7) and then of 
the Dharam Yudh Morca. 

7 It is worth noting that if Punjab's boundaries were redrawn as spelt 
out in the Resolution, the proportion of Sikhs would be reduced from 60 
per cent to possibly under 50 per cent as most of the areas asked for, 
though Punjabi-speaking, are largely populated by Hindus. When Akali 
leaders approached the then Prime Minister, Morarji Desai, and Deputy 
Prime Minister, Charan Singh, to declare Sikhs a minority community like 
the Muslims and Christians, both turned down the request on the grounds 
that they regarded Sikhs as a pan of the Hindu community. See Appendix. 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


supreme body of the Sikh Panth and as such as fully authorized 
to represent and lead them.' Its religious aims are couched in 
pseudo-religious terminology: 'The propagation of religion and 
Sikh tenets and condemnation of aetheism . . . eradication of pov- 
erty and ill-health, illiteracy and casteism as laid down in Sikh 
scriptures/ Included among the aims is 'maintaining the real- 
ization of the Panth's independent entity and creation of such 
an environment where Sikh sentiment can find its full expres- 
sion." Following this are other religious aims: The primaiy task 
is to inculcate a sense of Divinity among the Sikhs.' This is to 
be achieved through training theologians, hymn-singers, publish- 
ing religious literature and Amrit Prachar. The only controversial 
part of the religious aims is the enactment of an All-India 
Gurdwara Act to bring all historical gurdwaras in India under 
the control of the SGPC as well as its having a say in the 
management of gurdwaras all over the world, 'to be woven in a 
single chain in order to have effective benefits of the common 
means of religious propaganda/ It also asks for free access to 
the birthplace of Guru Nanak (in Pakistan) and other gurdwaras 
'which have been snatched aw T ay from the Panth/ (Kapur Singh 
had demanded 'Vatican Status' for Nankana Sahib.) 

The religion-based phraseology may have some justification 
coming from a religion-based party, but there is less excuse for 
its usage in what are described as political aims. The most 
controversial is the sub-preamble: 'The pant hie political aim is 
definitely based on the directives of the Tenth Guru, which is 
engraved on the pages of Sikh history and in the mind of the 
Khalsa Panth — its aim is, khalsaji ka bol bala — "where the voice 
of the Khalsa Sikhs will be pre-eminent." Although it was ex- 
plained away as meaning no more than 'maintaining the realiza- 
tion of the Panth's independent entity', etc. as stated earlier in 
the same resolution, most non-Akalis remained unconvinced. To 
them it was clearly an attempt to establish a theocracy in a 
secular India. 

The political demands of the Resolution are confined to the 
need to redraw boundaries to incorporate Punjabi-speaking 
areas left out of the Punjab, restricting the Central Government's 


Politics of Partition 

powers to defence, foreign affairs, posts and telegraph, currency 
and railways; and safeguards for Sikh minorities living outside 
the Punjab. 

The Resolution castigated the Central Government's foreign 
policy as 'useless and harmful' and exhorted the government to 
cultivate 'good relations with all neighbouring countries, particu- 
larly where Sikhs reside or where their religious shrines are 
found.' (The reference was primarily to Pakistan.) It also de- 
mands the maintenance of Sikh proportions in the defence 
services and the right of every person to carry firearms without 

The class interests of the Akali party are reflected in the 
economic policy resolutions. They ask for raising the ceiling on 
land holdings from seventeen to thirty standard acres per 
family, the abolition of intermediaries and fixing prices for 
agricultural produce on the basis of the cost of production of the 
average farmer. Such prices should be fixed in advance by the 
State and not the Central Government. The State should also 
take over wholesale trading in food grains and ensure the free 
movement of agricultural produce, treating the entire country as 
a single food zone. 

While claiming more land for farmers and the right to get the 
maximum prices for their produce in a free market, the Reso- 
lution demands that 'all basic industries should be brought 
under the public sector' and 'all consumer industries dealing 
with essential commodities be nationalized'. The Resolution 
betrays a similar bias in dealing with labour. For industrial 
labour it generously asks for a 'need-based minimum wage'; but 
for agricultural labour only that 'minimum wages be reviewed, 
and if necessary, increased.' It is significant that, while the 
Resolution demands the speedier completion of the Thein Dam 
and the setting up of more power plants including one based on 
atomic energy, it has nothing to say about the division of river 
waters which later became the Akali Dai's most important 
demand on the Central Government and the neighbouring states. 

While most Akalis hotly denied that the Anandpur Resolution 
bore the seeds of separatism, there were always small groups 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


equally emphatic in asserting that it was based on the assump- 
tion that the Sikhs were a separate qaum entided to self-govern- 
ment in a state of their own. The separatists received support 
from an unexpected quarter. In March 1981 the Chief Khalsa 
Diwan invited Ganga Singh Dhillon to speak at the Sikh Educa- 
tional Conference, where he described Sikhs as a nation apart 
from other Indians and persuaded the assemblage to pass a 
resolution asking the United Nations to accord them Associated 
Status. It took the Chief Khalsa Diwan a month to pass another 
resolution (16 April 1981) to rescind the earlier one as being 
contrary to the aims of the Diwan. But the mischief had been 
done inasmuch as that the oldest and most respected socio- 
political organization of the Sikhs had unwittingly allowed itself 
to be used as a forum to propagate the separate nation theory. 8 
When the Akalis were in power, as they were when the 
Anandpur Resolution was formally passed, and again during the 
Janata regime, they did not exert much pressure on the central 
government to have it accepted. They kept it as a not-too-secret 
weapon in their archives, to be brought out and brandished when 
they were out of power and use its non-acceptance as a grievance 
justifying agitation. Also, when it suited them they put it across 
as no more than a demand for more autonomy, just as the 
communist parties, the Janata and regional parties like the 
DMK, the AIDMK and Telegu Desam were doing. The one snag 
in their argument was that, being a purely Sikh party, they never 
tried to gain the support of Punjabi Hindus and thus tainted their 
demand with a communal colour. There was also the irritating 
reference to the Sikhs being a separate qaum. However much 
some Akali leaders tried to explain that by qaum they meant a 
separate religious or communal identity and not a separate 

8 Gurtej Singh Brar, a senior member of the Indian Administrative 
Services, said in a public statement: 'The Sikh-nation theory has been 
current among the Sikhs since the time of Guru Nanak.' He added, 'There 
should be others like Sant Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale to lead the Sikhs 
and take up their cause of righteousness and truth.' {India Today, 30 April 
1983. p. 20.) Brar was dismissed from service in August 1982 and joined 
Bhindranwale' s camp. 


Politics of Partition 

nation, there were others in their own party who made no secret 
that the Anandpur Resolution was an expression of their desire 
to establish a separate national identity. 

Mrs Gandhi should have known that the Akalis in power were 
a breed apart from Akalis out of power. If they were allowed to 
rule the Punjab or have a share in ruling it, they were more than 
willing to co-operate with the Central Government. If denied 
power-sharing, they were strong enough to launch agitations and 
make the task of governance difficult. When Mrs Gandhi won the 
parliamentary elections in 1980, Badal had it conveyed to her 
that, if he was left undisturbed in the Punjab he would co-operate 
with the Central Government. Mrs Gandhi spurned his offer and 
dismissed his government. She had scores to settle with the 
Akalis because they had backed Jayaprakash Narayan and 
continued a passive resistance movement against the Emer- 
gency that she had imposed on the country on 26 June 1975 and 
retained for eighteen months. She was also riding the crest of 
the wave and had no difficulty in winning a clear majority in the 
Punjab Legislative Assembly and making Darbara Singh the 
Chief Minister. 9 The Akalis knew that the logic of electoral 
numbers was against their being able to out-vote the Congress 
party and promptly decided to create difficulties for the admin- 
istration. Between August 1980 and September 1981 they orga- 
nized a succession of seven agitations and sent over 25,000 
volunteers to court arrest. When the Central Government asked 
them to spell out their demands they sent a list of forty-five 
grievances. 10 Some were substantial: Chandigarh had not been 
transferred to the Punjab (but Badal himself had not pressed 
this issue when he was Chief Minister); the State's boundaries 
had not been readjusted and Punjabi-speaking villages were left 

9 Darbara Singh, born 1916, is a Johaljat from the village of Jandiala 
(District Jullundur). He joined the Quit India Movement in 1942 and was 
in jail for three years. He was elected to the Punjab legislature on a 
Congress ticket and won the seat in subsequent elections. He was Chief 
Minister of the Punjab from 1980 to 6 October 1983. He was subsequently 
elected to the Rajya Sabha. 

10 See Appendix. 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


in neighbouring states; Punjab's demand for a fairer allocation 
of river waters had not been conceded; there were no heavy 
industries in the Punjab and very little central aid; the proportion 
of Sikhs in the army was rapidly going down; Punjab farmers 
were being evicted from Uttar Pradesh: an All-India Gurdwaras 
Act had not been passed; there was governmental interference 
in Sikh religious affairs and in the management of gurdwaras. 
For the first time, 'non-recognition of Sikh personal law' was 
made into a grievance. The list also included some trivial 
demands of purely religious import: that Amritsar be declared 
a 'holy city,' the same as Kurukshetra, Hardwar and Varanasi 
wherein the sale of tobacco and liquor were forbidden; that the 
Golden Temple be allowed to have its own transmitter to relay 
religious services: and a train known as the Flying Mail be 
renamed Harimandir Express. 11 When no notice was taken of 
their demands, the Akalis decided to launch a Dharam Yudh 
Morca (battle for righteousness) and appointed Sant Harchand 
Singh Longowal to organize it. In a pamphlet entitled Why This 
Holy Wart he explained its objectives in the following words: 'The 
Sikhs have been forced to launch a holy war against the Govern- 
ment of India because the ruling party has not only refused to 
fulfil its solemn promises made by it to them on the eve of 
Independence, but also because ever since it has consistently 
and deliberately tried to reduce them to the unenviable position 
of second class citizens/ 12 

Mrs Gandhi did not take the Dharam Yudh Morcha seriously 
and was reassured by Chief Minister Darbara Singh that he 
would be able to cope with it. Neither of them realized that the 
longer they dilly-dallied over Akali demands, the more ground 
the moderates would yield to hardliners and Khalistanis. 

In October 1981 the Akali Dal presented the government with 
a short list of fifteen demands. 13 In this they repeated that the 

1 1 The justification put forward for this demand was that there were 
fifteen trains named after Hindu places of pilgrimage but none bearing the 
name of a Sikh shrine. 

12 Satinder Singh, Khalistan, p. 54. 

13 See Annexure. 


Politics of Partition 

Anandpur Sahib Resolution was not separatist and was being 
pressed for acceptance so 'that the progress of States would 
entail prosperity of the centre/ 14 The list also included the 
demand for the release of Bhindranwale (then in jail), a licence 
to float a new bank in place of the Punjab and Sindh Bank which 
had been nationalized, and second-language status for Punjabi 
in the neighbouring states of Himachal, Haiyana, Rajasthan and 
Delhi — where Punjabi was in fact the second most widely spoken 
language. 15 There was nothing in either the forty-five or the 
fifteen demands that could possibly be construed as separatist 
or unconstitutional. Nor did either list bear much resemblance 
to the Anandpur Sahib Resolution in the choice of words, the 
assertion of separate identity or paramountcy. All that was 
required was a certain amount of give and take between the 
Akalis, the States concerned and the centre to arrive at an 
amicable settlement. But it did not suit Mrs Gandhi to agree to 
any settlement which might be construed as a concession made 
to Sikhs at the expense of Hindus. She had her eyes firmly fixed 
on her party's electoral prospects in the neighbouring states. 
And at the time, elections were scheduled to take place in 

In the White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, the government took 
great pains to establish that it had bent backwards to accom- 
modate the Akalis but was thwarted at every step by the Akalis 

14 See Appendix. 

15 It was only in January 1984 that the Akali Dal formulated its demand 
for a separate Sikh personal law by asking for an amendment to article 
25 of the Constitution. Their object was to obviate the application of the 
Hindu Marriage Act and the Hindu Succession Act to the Sikhs. The 
Sikhs had their own Anand Marriage Act; the Akali leaders were of the 
opinion that, instead of giving daughters equal rights in their fathers' 
property with their brothers, they should, when married, get rights in the 
property of their fathers-in-law. They also objected to the phrasing of the 
explanation appended to subclause 2 of article 25. Although explanatory, 
one clearly stated that 'the wearing and earning of Kirpans shall be 
construed as including a reference to persons professing the Sikh, Jaina 
or Buddhist religions, and the reference to Hindu religions shall be 
construed accordingly.' 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


shifting their stand or coming up with new demands. It appends 
a calendar of twenty-six meetings that took place between Akali 
leaders and the Central Government between 16 November 
1981 and 2 February 1984; three were with the Prime Minister, 
four with members of the Union Cabinet, nine were secret and 
ten with leaders of the opposition parties present. The Akali 
representatives remained somewhat the same: Longowal, Tohra, 
Badal, Barnala, Balwant Singh and, at times, R. S. Bhatia, editor 
of Quami Ekta, and Ravi Inder Singh. The government fielded 
a succession of cabinet ministers and senior bureaucrats. 
Several leaders of the opposition parties, including Farooq 
Abdullah (Chief Minister of Kashmir), L. K. Advani and Madhu 
Dandavate, as well as old hands like Swaran Singh and young 
hands like Amarinder Singh of Patiala were brought in. The 
most active in trying to get the two parties to come to an 
agreement was Harkishen Singh Surjeet, the Communist MP 
and member of the Party's politbureau. Non-governmental 
sources maintain that on five occasions the terms of a settle- 
ment were almost finalized and it was not the Akalis but Mrs 
Gandhi who resiled from her commitments. One of these was 
drawn up by Harkishen Singh Surjeet and Swaran Singh, acting 
on behalf of Mrs Gandhi on 2 November 1982. It was agreed 
that the settlement would be announced the next day in Parlia- 
ment. The announcement made the following day was at 
variance with what had been agreed to by the Akali leaders and 
they promptly denounced it as a betrayal of trust. Swaran Singh 
commented, 'this is neither the language of the statement nor 
the spirit.' 16 A fortnight later (18 November) , another settlement 
was arrived at at the house of P. C. Alexander, Principal Private 
Secretary to the Prime Minister. Once again, Mrs Gandhi 
changed her mind at the last minute. 17 The talks were resumed 

16 The Punjab: Crisis and Response, p. 237. 

17 Tt was decided that the Akali leaders, accompanied by Arnarinder 
Singh, Congress (I) MP, and the Union Home Secretary, T. N. Chaturvedi, 
would leave for Amritsar by special plane at 8.30 p.m. Chaturvedi would 
read out the decision to the Akali Dal president at Amritsar and by 
midnight the announcement of an accord should be made. Balwant Singh 


Politics of Partition 

early in 1983 at the insistence of the opposition leaders. At these 
tripartite meetings, at which the cabinet committee members 
were present, the Akalis agreed to transfer seventeen Hindi- 
speaking villages to Haryana. The talks broke down because 
government representatives insisted that Mrs Gandhi's 1970 
award should be accepted in toto, that is, Chandigarh would be 
conceded to the Punjab if the Akalis agreed to give Fazilka and 
Abohar to Haryana. The same thing was repeated in another 
round of talks on 20 April 1983. The Akalis agreed to pan with 
Hindi-speaking areas contiguous to Chandigarh, but not Fazilka 
and Abohar which were neither Hindi-speaking nor contiguous. 
What irked Mrs Gandhi most was that on 30 June 1983 the 
opposition parties and Akali leaders evolved a consensus 
without including the government's representatives in their 
discussions. Mrs Gandhi rejected the consensus. 'Can I give 
Haryana's land to Punjab? Is it my land?' she asked on 21 July 
1983. 18 In sheer disgust the Akalis decided to embarrass the 
central government by letting the world know how they were 
being treated. They organized bands of volunteers to raise anti- 
government slogans at the Asian Games scheduled for the 
following month. Mrs Gandhi's response to the threat and the 
methods adopted to prevent disturbances at the Games created 
strong resentment among all Sikhs. Bhajan Lai, Chief Minister 
of Haryana, issued instructions to his police that every Sikh 
going towards Delhi by rail or road be stopped, searched and 
questioned. Amongst those who were humiliated were army 
officers in uniform 19 and Congress party members of Parlia- 

spoke to Sant Longowal on the phone from Kapurthala House (the Punjab 
government's guest house in New Delhi) and got his approval. The Akali 
leaders vacated their rooms and were waiting for the Home Secretaiy who 
was to take them to the airport. When they did not get any information till 
9 p.m., Amarinder Singh contacted the Prime Minister's house where the 
Political Affairs Committee of the cabinet was meeting and he was told 
that there was some hitch.' The Punjab: Crisis and Response, p. 237. 

18 Ibid., p. 238. 

19 These included retired Major Generals Jaswant Singh Bhullar and 
Narinder Singh, both of whom later joined Bhindranwale. Others stopped 

The Anandpur Sahib Resolution 


ment. For the first time, the Sikhs as a community experienced 
religious discrimination and this time it was not the Akalis or 
the Khalistanis but minions of the government who treated them 
as a people apart from other Indians. 

Mrs Gandhi continued to play political games with the Akalis. 
On 27 February 1984 she made a grand gesture by announcing 
at a gathering of her own supporters at Gurdwara Bangla Sahib 
in New Delhi that the government had accepted three religious 
demands put up by the Akalis. Although she was negotiating 
with the Akalis she wanted the credit to go to the Congress 
Sikhs. 20 Again, in February 1984, on the eve of tripartite talks 
(between the government, the Akalis and leaders of opposition 
parties) , and when it appeared that all parties were ready to 
append their signatures to a memorandum of settlement, anti- 
Sikh riots were engineered in towns of Haryana, forcing the 
Akalis to abandon negotiations. 21 The fruitless toing-and-froing 
of Akali leaders between Amritsar, Chandigarh and Delhi got 
on Sant Longowal's nerves. On one side was an icy cool, 
calculating and evasive Mrs Gandhi — on the other Bhindranwale 
breathing fire and brimstone down his neck. In sheer exaspera- 
tion he issued a statement: *I want to tell Mrs Gandhi our 

and questioned included retired Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh and retired 
Lt. General Jagjit Singh Arora, who later joined the Akali party and was 
elected to the Rajya Sabha. Amongst others detained and questioned were 
Amarjit Kaur, Congress member of the Rajya Sabha and her husband. 

20 At the time the President of the Delhi Gurdwara Committee was H. S. 
Manchanda. He was shot dead on 28 March 1984. 

21 According to the India Today of 31 July 1984, when the last secret 
meeting between the Akali leaders and government's nominees was 
held on 25 May 1984 (a week before the army was sent to the Punjab) 
and failed to arrive at a settlement, three ministers of the central 
government, P. V. Narasimha Rao, Pranab Mukherjee and Shiv Shankar, 
consulted the highest intelligence agency in the country, the Research and 
Analysis Wing (RAW) and advised the Prime Minister to go ahead and 
deploy the army in the Punjab. The White Paper has nothing to say about 
what transpired at this secret meeting with the Akalis nor at any of the 
others which took place in the home of the Prime Minister's Principal 
Secretary, P. C. Alexander, 


Politics of Partition 

patience is getting exhausted. She should stop playing with 
fire. 22 At the same time, he announced the raising of an army 
of 100,000 mar jiware (living dead) who would dedicate their 
lives to the attainment of their goal. The Akalis were fast 
approaching the point of no return. 23 

22 India Today, 30 April 1983, p. 16. 

23 Harkishen Singh Surjeet was categorical in laying the blame for the 
impasse on the government: 4 Mrs Gandhi created Bhindranwale. She 
wanted to build him up as an alternative leadership to the Akalis so that 
he was amenable to her. No other explanation can be there. Three days 
after he is appointed, P. S. Bhinder (Commissioner of Police) issues a 
statement that there are no criminals hidden in the Temple nor are there 
arms. In March 1984 Rajiv Gandhi goes to Chandigarh and praises 
Bhindranwale.' Interview with Nikhil Lakshman as quoted in The Punjab 
Crisis: Challenge and Response, pp. 338-9. 

21. Fatal Miscalculation 1 

In a televised broadcast on the evening of 2 June 1984, Prime 
Minister Indira Gandhi prepared the nation for the action she 
was about to undertake against the Akalis and Bhindranwale. 
After accusing the Akalis of endlessly making new demands and 
mounting one agitation after another, she presented them with 
an alibi by suggesting that 'the leadership of the organization 
appears to have been seized by a group of fanatics and terrorists 
whose instruments for achieving whatever they may have in view 
are murder, arson and loot . . . Holy shrines have been turned into 
shelters for criminals and murderers, their sanctity as places 
of worship has been undermined.' 2 She narrated the tortuous 
course of negotiations since 1981, claiming that 'our [that is, the 
government's], attitude was one of accommodation of all reason- 
able demands', 3 and attempted to show how her government 
had conceded whatever the Akalis had asked for in the name 
of religion, apart from being prepared to negotiate on their 
territorial claims and share of river waters. She did not, of 
course, refer to the occasions when a settlement had been 
virtually arrived at and she, not the Akalis, had found excuses 
not to append her signature to it. She had to build the case 

1 Punjab: Fatal Miscalculation. Title of a compilation of articles by 
Patwant Singh and Haiji Malik (1985). 

2 The White Paper on tlie Punjab Agitation, Govt, of India, 1984, pp. 105, 

3 Ibid., p. 105. 


Politics of Partition 

that the government was left with no choice except what it was 
about to do. 'What do we do in this new situation?' she asked 
her audience. Nothing particularly new had occurred in the 
preceding months: incidents of violence had continued as be- 
fore, Bhindranwale had continued to make hateful utterances 
against the 'Hindu government ' and the 'Delhi Darbar' from the 
now T fortified Akal Takht. Perhaps the only new move which she 
could pre-empt was the Akali 's threat to prevent movement of 
food grains out of the Punjab by blocking road and rail traffic. 
They had also exhorted the peasants to refuse paying land 
revenue and water rates to the government, and instead, deposit 
them at the Akal Takht.* It was they who had chosen 3 June, 
the anniversary of the martyrdom of the founder of the Temple, 
Guru Arjun, to launch another agitation. Instead of ordering 
the police to prevent Akali volunteers from impeding the traffic 
of food grains, Mrs Gandhi had decided to assault the citadel 
from where emanated edicts to defy her government. 'Even at 
this late hour I appeal to the Akali leaders to call off their 
threatened agitation and accept the framework of peaceful 
settlement which we have offered ' she said. She ended with 
the appeal: 'Don't shed blood, shed hatred.' 5 At the time she 
had already authorized the army to do precisely the opposite: 
to shed blood which, she ought to have known, would generate 
hatred of the kind the country had not experienced since 

Many months earlier the army had been instructed to keep 
itself in readiness to move into the Golden Temple whenever 
ordered to do so. A replica of the Temple complex had been 
prepared at Chakrata (near Mussoorie) to familiarize besiegers 
with its layout, entrances and fortified positions. Information of 

4 The Bharat Kisan Union (BKU), a non-political union of farmers, had 
been agitating for almost two yeais for the reduction of water and 
electricity rates and prices of fertilizers. In the first week of May 1984 it 
called for a boycott of wheat markets ( mandis) and no wheat reached the 
markets. The White Paper has nothing to say about the BKU agitation and 
pins the blame solely on the Akal is. 

5 Ibid., p. 109. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


the strength of Bhindranwale' s fighters, their dispositions, and 
the kind of weapons they possessed had been gathered by the 
intelligence agencies of the police and the army. This was not 
too arduous a task as the Temple was visited by thousands of 
people at all hours of the day and night, and even Bhindranwale, 
his aide Amrik Singh, and the commanders of his motley army 
of 300-400 men; Generals Shahbeg Singh and Jaswant Singh 
Bhullar, had been granting interviews to journalists. Some army 
officers, including Major General K. S. Brar, a clean-shaven Sikh 
who was to lead the operation, had gone round the Temple 
incognito to see the defenders' fortifications. 

It is difficult to be certain about the people who counselled 
Mrs Gandhi that negotiations with the Akalis should cease 
and the army be ordered to take over the job of bringing 
Bhindranwale to heel. But there is reason to believe that they 
included her relative Arun Nehru, Anm Singh, a clean shaven 
Sikh who regarded himself as an expert on the Punjab, Deputy 
Minister of Defence, K. P. Singh Deo and her son, Rajiv Gandhi, 
then General Secretary 7 of the Congress part v.' The army was 
reluctant to take on the job. It was meant to protect the country's 
frontiers, not fight its own people. Its reluctance was overcome 
by placing Punjab under military rule. According to the Wliite 
Paper, 'the government was convinced that this challenge to 
the security, unity and integrity of the country 7 could not be met 
by the normal law and order agencies at the disposal of the 
State/ 7 

Giani Zail Singh as President and Supreme Commander of 
the armed forces was asked by Mrs Gandhi to sanction putting 
Punjab under military rule. Once the army was in control, there 
was no need for am further sanction from the civil authorities 
for it to take the action it deemed necessary. President Zail 

6 As late as 23 March 1984 Rajiv Gandhi stated: '1 think we should not 
enter the Golden Temple. The poiice can enter temples, but it is a question 
of what is good balance. Today as we see it, it is not as if the Sikhs are 
against the Hindus, and we should do nothing that separates them/ (The 
Punjab Crisis, p. 227.) 

7 The White Paper on the Punjab Agitation, p. 3. 


Politics of Partition 

Singh was kept in the dark about the designs on the Temple. On 
30 May Mrs Gandhi spent over an hour with him, briefing him 
on the fresh proposals for a settlement with the Akalis. If she 
had given him an inkling of what she had in mind he could at 
least have warned her of the hazards of undertaking a military 
operation when large numbers of pilgrim would be spending 
several days and nights in the Temple complex to participate 
in services in memory of their martyred guru. 8 

It appears that Mrs Gandhi made a last-minute effort to avoid 
armed confrontation. According to an unauthenticated report, 9 
she wrote a personal note to Bhindranwale and was undoubtedly 
behind Rajiv Gandhi's statement that Bhindranwale was a spiri- 
tual not a political leader. 10 She was misinformed of Bhindran- 
wale 's strength and beguiled into believing that most Sikhs 
would approve of the government liberating their Temple from 
the clutches of terrorists. As a matter of fact, the overwhelming 
majority of worshippers were not concerned with the Akalis 
or their agitation, nor over-exercised with the SGPC's letting 
Bhindranwale convert parts of the Temple into a fortress. They 
were not exposed to any of these: they carried out their religious 
ritual without even catching a glimpse of Bhindranwale. To the 
Sikh masses neither Mrs Gandhi nor Bhindranwale, neither the 
Akali Dal nor the Congress party, nor any individual politician, 
mattered very much; the sanctity of the Golden Temple and the 
Akal Takht did. 

Not only were Mrs Gandhi and her advisers unable to foresee 
the consequences of sending the army into the Temple, the army 
commanders' assessment of the resistance that Bhind ran wale's 
men might put up was woefully underestimated and bordered 

8 The government's White Paper says nothing about the martyrdom 
anniversary nor of the presence of pilgiims in the Temple premises at the 

9 Devinder Singh Duggal, librarian of the archives of the Golden 
Temple, claims to have read this out to Bhindranwale on 3 June 1984 and 
maintains that the note was destroyed in the fire during Operation Blue 

10 Indian Express, 16 May 1984. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


on the wishful. 11 They felt that a show of strength followed by 
a bold frontal assault would frighten them into submission. 12 

Although it was Mrs Gandhi who gave the army the green 
signal, it was her young gang of counsellors who directed the 
operation in close collaboration with the army's top brass. The 
Chief of Army Staff, General A. S. Vaidya, deputed Lt. General 
Sunderji, GOC Western Command, to take charge of the opera- 
tion with two Sikh generals, Ranjit Singh Dayal, Chief of Staff, 
Western Command who was security adviser to the Punjab 
Governor, with Major General K. S. Brar to assist him. 

Some days before Mrs Gandhi's broadcast, the army had 
begun to take up positions in the Punjab. Large contingents were 
brought in from different parts of the country by road, rail, and 
air. These included tanks, mountain guns, divers and even police 
dogs. Seventy thousand men in uniform were posted at strategic 
points — most of them in and around Amritsar. The border with 
Pakistan was sealed off. 

The task entrusted to the army on 2 June was: 'to check and 
control extremists and communal violence in the State of Punjab 
and the Union Territory of Chandigarh, provide security to the 

people and restore normalc^ ' The army commanders thought 

that flag marches and strict enforcement of cuifew regulations, 
followed by periodical announcements asking people to come 
out of the Golden Temple and about forty other temples where 
it suspected extremists were hiding, would be enough. 

11 In an interview given after the operation, General Sunderji com- 
mented that to say 'intelligence was inadequate' was the 'understatement 
of the year;' it was virtually non-existent. (Chopra, Agony of the Punjab, 
p. 27.) Four intelligence agencies involved in gathering information were 
the CID, RAW, the Intelligence Bureau and Military Intelligence. On 13 
June 1984 it was admitted before leaders of the opposition that government 
intelligence had failed and that the army was taken by surprise by the 
nature and quality of weapons discovered in the temple. ( The Punjab Crisis, 
p. 230.) 

12 The White Paper ruefully admits that 'tactical intelligence in regard 
to the strength and disposition of terrorist gangs was inadequate' (p. 44). 
It is also silent on the number of Bhindranwale followers and other groups 
like the Babbar Khalsa which engaged the Indian army in the action. 


Politics of Partition 

Akali leaders, including Sant Longowal, G. S. Tohra, B. S. 
Ramoowalia, the widow Amarjeet Kaur and about 350 others 
were lodged on the eastern side of the Temple where the kitchen, 
serais and offices of the Akali Dal and the SGPC were situated. 
They might well have responded to the army's offer and come 
out to prevent unnecessary bloodshed in the Temple — but they 
were under the watchful eyes of Bhindranwale's men entrenched 
in the Akal Takht at the opposite end of the complex and right 
beneath the three towers, the two Ramgarma Buquers and the 
water tower, on which members of the Babbar Khalsa had their 
nests of snipers. 13 The best they could do was to shut themselves 
in their rooms and pray that the action would soon be over. 
Bhindranwale continued to belch fire and contempt. Even after 
the army had completely surrounded the Temple he told a press 
correspondent who asked him what he planned to do now that 
he was outnumbered and outgunned: 'Numbers don't count. 
There are always more sheep than lions . . . when the tiger sleeps, 
the birds chirp. But when the tiger awakens, the birds fly away.' 14 
He told another party of journalists. 'If the authorities enter 

Indira will crumble, we will slice them into small pieces Let 

them come.' 15 He was more outspoken than before about 
Khalistan. 'I have definitely not opposed it. But at the moment 
I can't say I support it,' he replied. When prompted by his aides 
to be more specific, he added, 'Frankly, I don't think that Sikhs 
can either live in or with India. 16 

By 1 June all was ready for the final assault. The government's 
paramilitary forces, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) 
and the Border Security Force (BSF), opened fire on different 
positions occupied by those inside the Temple in order to 
ascertain where they were and what kind of weapons they had. 
Despite eight hours of probing, the besieged did not oblige them 

13 As late as on 4 June Tohra had gone across to the other side to plead 
with Bhiridranwale to yield; he was contemptuously turned back as a 

14 The Sunday Observer, 10 June 1982. 

15 Kuldip Nayar, Tragedy of Punjab, p. 92. 

16 Ibid. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


by returning fire. Eleven men, all inside the Temple, lost their 
lives and dozens were wounded. At 9 p.m. a thirty-hour curfew 
was clamped on the city. Sant Longowal made several attempts 
to get President Zail Singh on the phone; the President's sec- 
retary replied that he was not available. Longowal called an 
emergency meeting of the Akali Dal High Command, but none 
except Tohra were able to turn up. The meeting was postponed 
to 4 June. Longowal addressed a letter to Mrs Gandhi accusing 
her government of 4 waging a new war against the Sikhs' and 
warned her that 'every bullet fired at the Golden Temple will hit 
every Sikh wherever he be in the world.' 17 The head granthi of 
the temple and the high priest of the Akal Takht appealed to the 
Sikhs to fight and destroy the evil doers. 18 Decks were cleared 
for action: a series of ordinances banning the entry of foreigners 
in the Punjab were promulgated; censorship was imposed on 
all Punjabi papers; road, rail, and air services suspended. The 
Temple's power connections were cut off, plunging the complex 
in darkness, and the cordon round it was tightened. Bhindran- 
wale's men lit bonfires in different places to watch movements 
of troops and repel their attempts to advance. The plan to cow 
down the defenders by show of force had flopped. The atten- 
dance in the Temple on 3 June (Guru Arjun's martyrdom an- 
niversary 7 ) was not as large as usual; nevertheless, it ran into 
thousands as curfew had been relaxed for a couple of hours. Sant 
Longowal issued a statement rejecting Mrs Gandhi's televized 
broadcast offer of 2 June. That evening (3 June) the Temple's 
telephone and drinking water connections were also cut off. The 
next morning (4 June) the strategy was changed. Top priority 
was given to dislodging snipers of the Babbar Khalsa in positions 
of vantage on top of the three towers and some high buildings 
overlooking the Temple. Mountain guns were brought into action 
and the snipers' nests blown up. Though on the same side, the 
Babbars had acted independently and often in defiance of the 
orders of General Shahbeg Singh. But their elimination cleared 

17 H. S. Bhanwar, Diary Dey Pannay* p. 21. 

18 Ibid., p. 24. 


Politics of Partition 

the way for the army to move in from the eastern side-entrance 
where the kitchen, serais and offices of the SGPC were located. 
This began on 5 June. The men inside were ordered to surrender. 
A couple of hundred menials of the SGPC and their families 
came out; others, fearing both the army and the wrath of the 
defenders, stayed where they were. By then reports started 
coming in that the Sikh peasantry around Amritsar was up in 
arms carrying whatever rustic weapons they possessed, and 
were converging on the city from all directions to force the army 
to raise the siege. Huge mobs numbering upwards of 20,000 
each were spotted by helicopters. Tanks and armoured cars 
were sent out against them. Army commanders realized that 
time was running out and, unless they liquidated resistance in 
the Temple, they might have to face a general uprising of the 
Sikhs. They decided to finish the task during the night of 5-6 
June, no matter what it cost them in lives or damage to the 
Temple. They threw in all they had: their commandos, frogmen, 
helicopters, armoured vehicles and tanks. They first occupied 
the langar (kitchen), and the serais and premises of the SGPC 
where the Akali leaders had cloistered themselves. An hour after 
midnight Longowal, Tohra, Ramoowalia, Amarjeet Kaur, and 
scores of others surrendered to the army. 19 As they were doing, 
so, snipers picked out and shot dead two of Bhindranwale's 
enemies and a grenade was lobbed in the crowd (nobody knows 
by whom) , killing scores of others. The army entered the Temple 
from three sides, the main assault being through the broad 
openway from where they had taken the Akali leaders. Armoured 
carriers and tanks with men behind them entered the Temple 
parikarma to face deadly fire from the Akal Takht and the 
buildings around. An armoured carrier that led the advance was 
knocked out by a rocket. Tanks were brought in. One sank under 
its own weight and got stuck. Tank lights with their blinding glare 

19 Since the manner in which Akali leaders were taken became a 
subject of dispute, General K. S. Brar's version is perhaps the most 
reliable. In an interview given on 14 June 1984 he said, 'Longowal and Tohra 
when surrounded gave themselves up. They did not put up any fight.' 
Chopra, Agony of the Punjab, p. 31. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


were switched on and shells fired into the Akal Takht. One went 
through the Darshani Deodhi at one end of the viaduct leading 
to the Harimandir. Another hit the Akal Takht and brought down 
most of the edifice. The battle raged along the parikarma from 
room to room. Batches of Bhindranwale's men emerged from 
its basement to take on the army jawans. By the morning of 6 
June, the army had established control over the Temple and its 
immediate surroundings. By 4.30 a.m. army commandos man- 
aged to get to the Akal Takht. The battle raged for another two 
hours. The extremists fought to the last man/ said General 
Brar. The bullet-ridden bodies of Bhindranwale, Amrik Singh 
(who had been married a few days earlier) and General Shahbeg 
Singh, still clutching his walkie-talkie set, were found in the 
basement. 20 

Similar battles were waged by the army in another forty odd 
gurdwaras where they suspected terrorists to be hiding. These 
included Dukh Nivaran at Patiala and gurdwaras at Taran Taran 
and Moga. 21 

20 General Jaswant Singh Bhullar had made a timely disappearance 
from the scene of action. Later, he was allowed to escape to the United 
States to continue propaganda for Khalistan. 

21 The sequence of events narrated in the government's White Paper are 
not borne out by eyewitnesses present in the Temple complex during 
Operation Blue Star. Their versions were collected by a team of five 
researchers led by Mrs Amiya Rao and sent to the Punjab by the Citizens 
for Democracy in May 1985. Their findings with a foreword by Justice V. M. 
Tarkunde was published a few months later. The book entitled Report to 
the Nation: Oppression in Punjab was promptly seized and banned by the 
government. On 10 September 1985 all the five researchers were arrested 
and charged with crimes under the National Security Act, Armed Forces 
Special Powers Act 1983 and Terrorists and Disruptive Activities Act 1985. 
The book was subsequently reprinted clandestinely in India 
and abroad and widely circulated. Its findings on incidents at the Golden 
Temple between 1 and 7 June 1984 were based on recorded statements 
made by Devinder Singh Duggal, Director of the Sikh Reference Library , 
whose appartment was alongside the library and overlooked the Temple, 
Bhan Singh, Secretary of the SGPC, Gyani Puran Singh, one of the priests 
of the Temple and many others. They are categorical in stating that: 
(a) Fire was opened by the CRPF soon after the noon of 1 June and 


Politics of Partition 

Two days later (8 June), President Zail Singh visited the 
Temple. The Prime Minister took care to send Arjun Singh and 
her personal secretary, R. K. Dhawan, to keep an eye on Zail 
Singh and to make sure that he did not say anything which might 
embarrass the government. Zail Singh was visibly shaken by 
what he saw. The bodies of women and children still floated in 
the sacred pool. Though frantic efforts had been made to clear 
the precincts of blood, the stench of death and cordite pervaded 
the atmosphere. He broke down and prayed for forgiveness. A 
sniper hidden in a neighbouring building tried to kill him but hit 
the security guard behind him. Mrs Gandhi also visited the 

continued for over seven hours without a single shot being fired from inside 
the complex. Amongst the eight killed were a woman and child; (b) Nothing 
untoward happened on 2 June. Curfew was lifted and pilgrims allowed 
to enter to participate in martyrdom day observances. The CRPF outside 
the Temple was replaced by the army on the night of 2 June; (c) The 
number of worshippers in the temple on the martyrdom anniversary 
(3 June) was about 10,000. This included a jatha of 1300 which had come 
to court arrest in the Dharam Yudh Morca (including 200 women and 18 
children). All these people stayed in the Temple complex in the Guru Ram 
Das serai, Teja Singh Samudri Hall or in the pari karma; (d) The army 
attacked the Temple complex without any prior warning; electricity was cut 
off slightly before 4 a.m. on 4 June; the first shells fell close to the Akal 
Takht. The army attacked from all sides. According to Duggal 'a helicopter 
hovered above and continued to fire from above. Some of these helicopters 
also guided the firing squads of the army by making a circle of light around 
the targets. Immediately after these circles, a cannon ball would sand on 
the target, causing havoc. We saw a large number of boys blown to pieces;' 
(e) There were about 50 men and women in the central shrine, Harimandir, 
of whom two were killed; (f) The real resistance began only after the army 
entered the Temple; Bhindranwale had 'only 100 people to fight and there 
were less than 100 arms consisting mostly of 303 rifles used in World War 
I, 315 guns and a few sten guns. When the army entered the ammunition 
was nearly exhausted. After midnight (morning of 6 June), at about 1 a.m. 
an armoured carrier and eight tanks came inside the complex;' (g) No 
damage had been done to the Research Library till the evening of 6 June, 
when Duggal left it. On his return on 14 June he saw it destroyed. He was 
asked to sign a receipt to the effect that he had taken charge of it. On his 
refusal to do so, he was arrested. (Report to the Nation: Oppression in Punjab, 
a reprint published in the USA). 

Fatal Miscalculation 


Temple a few days later and was upset when she saw the extent 
of damage. She was not a big enough woman to admit that Blue 
Star had been a grievous error of judgement, a blunder for which 
she personally and the country generally would have to pay a 
heavy price for decades to come. 

The government media and an almost entirely communally 
biased Hindu press did its utmost to justify the action, extol the 
heroism of the army for doing an unpleasant job with profes- 
sional skill and vilify Bhindranwale and his associates in lan- 
guage unworthy of an allegedly free press. It was put out that the 
army had suffered heavy casualties because it refrained from 
returning fire from the Harimandir which had therefore re- 
mained undamaged and no one inside it had been hurt. People 
present there told a different tale: the shrine was splattered with 
bullets and at least one ragi (singer) was killed. 22 Stories were 
circulated that a large number of women, including prostitutes 
and foreign hippies, were found on the premises, of whom some 
women were pregnant; others presumably were able to avoid 
pregnancy because quantities of used condoms were found in the 
debris; so also stocks of opium, heroin and hashish. These 
stories made the front pages of most newspapers: corrections 
issued later that hippies and narcotics were not found in the 
Temple complex but outside it received scant publicity. At- 
tempts to further tarnish the image of Bhindranwale were equally 
clumsy. It was put out that he had been slain by his own men. 23 
Since no self-respecting Sikh could be found to give the govern- 
ment a clean chit, frightened rustics were hauled up before TV 

22 In his interview given a week after the action, General K. S. Brar 
maintained that the army suffered heavy casualties because it was 
forbidden to return extremist fire coming from the Harimandir. More than 
a hundred fresh bullet marks seen on the Harimandir cast serious doubt 
on this official version: either there were no extremists in the Harimandir 
and the bullet marks were caused by crossfire or, if they were there, 
the army must have returned their fire. See Chopra, Agony of the Punjab, 
pp. 28-33. 

23 The Hindustan Times (8 June 1984) boldly front-paged M. K. Dhar's 
version taken 'from the most reliable sources' that Bhindranwale had taken 
his own life. 


Politics of Partition 

cameras and made to repeat statements prepared for them. The 
head priest of the Akal Takht, Jathedar Kirpal Singh, was made 
to read a statement placed in his hands that the damage caused 
was minimal. 24 

The entire Sikh community was outraged by the action and 
expressed its anger in whatever manner it could. At eight 
cantonments in different parts of India, over 4000 Sikh soldiers 
deserted their regiments, slew their officers and tried to get to 
Amritsar. They were intercepted by the local police and the 
army; in the clashes scores of men were slain on either side and 
the remaining deserters captured. Two Sikh members of the 
Lok Sabha, including Amarinder Singh of Patiala, and both 
belonging to Mrs Gandhi's party, put in their resignations from 
Parliament and the Congress party. So did several members of 
the Punjab legislature. A Sikh diplomat in Norway asked for 
political asylum; a senior police officer, Simranjit Singh Mann, 
posted in Maharashtra, enclosed with his letter of resignation 
offensive memos to the President and Prime Minister, and went 
underground. He was later captured trying to cross over to Nepal 
and kept under detention without trial. 25 Several distinguished 
men of letters, including the historian Ganda Singh, Sadhu 
Singh Hamdard, the editor of Ajit, and Bhagat Puran Singh, 
popularly known as Punjab's bearded Mother Teresa because of 
his lifelong service to lepers and destitudes, returned honours 
that the government had bestowed on them. 

A month after Operation Blue Star, and after several post- 
ponements, the government published on 10 July its version of 
events that led to it in the form of a White Paper on the Punjab 

24 Virtually the only two 'respectable Sikhs' the government media 
could find to support the army action were both aspirants for Governors' 
posts. One was the ever-accommodating Dr Gopal Singh Dardi, the other, 
Professor Harbans Singh. Dardi was appointed Lieutenant Governor of 
Goa, Daman and Diu. The professor's family was more than adequately 
compensated by being given the contract to rebuild the Akal Takht on its 
own terms. 

25 The government tried to implicate Mann in Mrs Gandhi's murder. 
When in detention in Bhagalpur jail, Mann was elected President of the 
Akali Dal. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


Agitation. 2 * Apart from the one sided narration, it had many 
factual inaccuracies. Its main theme was that the Akali agitation 
generated Bhindranwale's terrorism and, since the Akalis could 
not control it, the government had no option but to stamp it out. 
As a matter of fact, Bhindranwale's terrorism began much 
earlier, with his clash with the Nirankaris on 13 April 1978. The 
murders of the Nirankari, Baba Gurbachan Singh, and Lala Jagat 
Narain; the sabotage of rail tracks, the hijacking of two Indian 
Airlines planes, attempts on the life of Chief Minister Barbara 
Singh and the killing of several Sant Nirankaris, all took place 
before the Akalis Dharam Yudh Morca began on 4 August 1982. 

The White Paperput the entire responsibility for Bhindranwale's 
misdeeds on the Akalis without mentioning the government's 
role in building him up, releasing him after charging him with 
murder and letting him go about cities like Bombay and Delhi 
with his band of armed desperadoes without questioning them, 
besides conniving at arms being smuggled into the Temple in 
trucks carrying groceries for the kitchen. 27 

26 On 14 July 1983 H. S. Surjeet and other opposition MPs had asked 
the government to publish a White Paper on the Punjab in the Consultative 
Committee of Parliament. The government turned down the demand. In 
its annexure, apart from mentioning 52 Chinese-made and Russian 
Kaiashnikov assault rifles, the While Paper avoids naming the countries of 
manufacture of self-loading rifles and light machine guns alleged to have 
been seized after the operation. This for the simple reason that they were 
of Indian manufacture. A glaring omission was of the medium machine 
guns said to have been captured. They were apparently stolen some 
months earlier from an army depot. There is no reference to how arms 
were smuggled into the country and then into the Temple complex, apart 
from the bland statement that they were 'taken in Kar Seva trucks'. Thus, 
both the BSF and the CRPF cordoning the Temple complex were let off 
the hook. 

The White Paper has several pictures of doors and windows bricked up 
leaving apertures for guns. Amongst them is one of a private house, outside 
the Temple complex, which was fortified by the Border Security Force. 

27 P. S. Bhinder, IG of Police, admitted that trucks carrying provisions 
for the Temple kitchen were not searched as he had received oral 
instructions from 'the top,' ooper sey (Indianization of 'higher authorities'), 
The Punjab Crisis, p. 230. 


Politics of Partition 

The government spokesman had often mentioned the 'foreign 
hand' (clearly meaning Pakistan or the United States-^-or both) 
in the supply of arms and training facilities to terrorists, as well 
as camps set up by them in Jammu and Kashmir. The Write 
Paper t too, stated that 'the government has reasons to believe 
that the terrorists were receiving different kinds of active sup- 
port from certain foreign sources/ 28 It referred to a Sikh 
extremist group in Canada which had hired onejohan Vanderhorst 
to train Sikhs in the use of firearms. The sole source of 
information quoted for this was a report in The Vancouver Sun. 
The most glaring inaccuracy was the White Paper's estimate of 
human casualties and the damage to sacred property. Accord- 
ing to it, the 'civilian-terrorists' killed numbered 554 and 121 
injured. Army casualties were put down as 92 killed (including 
4 officers and 4 JCOs) and 287 injured. Some days after the 
event Rajiv Gandhi, speaking at Nagpur, gave the figure of army 
casualties as over 700 dead. (He subsequently retracted his 
statement.) By that reckoning, the number of ' civilian-terrorist ' 
casualties was probably also seven times the figure given by the 
White Paper. Most eyewitness accounts put their number between 
1500 and 5000, mostly innocent pilgrims, including women 
and children. 29 The government never bothered to publish the 
names of those killed, nor anything to refute the damning 
evidence that quite a large number of those captured were 
executed in cold blood. 30 

28 Mrs Gandhi had been talking of the foreign hand in the Punjab (and 
Assam) trouble since 1972. The White Paper mentioned 'foreign forces' and 
'external support'. Having made the charge it stated that it was not in the 
public interest to divulge the details. Governor B. D. Pandey said on 15 
December 1983 that there was no evidence of foreign interference in the 
Punjab's affairs. 

29 Kuldip Nayar records that 'nearly 100 devotees, including 35 women 
and 10 children lost their lives,' Tragedy of Punjab, p. 102. The New York 
Times puts the number of killed at 1200 (17 October 1984), the Chicago 
Tribune at 2000 (12 June 1984). 

30 Brahma Chellani of Associated Press, who happened to elude the 
army and police dragnet was able to produce post mortem reports of men 
'shot at point-blank range by troops who first tied their hands behind their 

Fatal Miscalculation 


The government maintained that no damage was done to the 
Harimandir. Journalists who were allowed to visit the Temple a 
few days after Operation Blue Star counted hundreds of fresh 
bullet marks in the gold-leaf and marble. 31 The government 
maintained that the Temple archives, which housed hundreds 
of rare handwritten copies of the Granth and hukumnamahs 
bearing the signatures of the Gurus, had caught tire during the 
fighting. D. S. Duggal, keeper of the archives, was categorical 
that it was after the fighting had stopped that troops set fire to 
the archives under the impression that the manuscripts were 
probably account books of the Temple. By then they had broken 
open the offices of the SGPC, the Akali Dal and the Istri Akali 
and taken whatever valuables they could find and set the rest on 
fire. There are over a dozen shrines in the complex, each with 
its golak (metal pitcher for putting in coins and currency notes). 
Not one was found after the army action. The Temple kitchen 
which catered to thousands of pilgrims every day was robbed of 
every utensil. Amongst the invaluable, irreplaceable treasures 
lost was a gem-studded canopy sent by the Nizam of Hyderabad 

backs.' This report was published in The Times of London on 14 June 1984. 
A warrant of arrest was issued against Chellani. 

The Peoples Council for Civil Liberties. Black Laws (p. 57) has an equally 
damning indictment: 'During the army action at the Golden Temple, there 
were many cases of indiscriminate killing of ordinary people including 
unnamed women and children. The post mortem reports state that some 
of those killed had their hands tied behind their backs. These killings 
include 16 sewadars of Baba Kharak Singh from Gurdwara Dera Baba 
Sharn Singh. In 50 wards from the Golden Temple, Baba Kharak Singh is 
a revered sant and a pacifist. On 7 June, sixteen of his men, including the 
70 year old Joginder Singh and 18 year old Hardev Singh were pulled out 
from the Dera, their hands tied behind their backs, made to walk through 
the streets of Atta Mandi Bazar, and were shot dead opposite the DCM shop 
by BSF personnel. Soldiers belonging to the Bihar regiment and the BSF 
also looted the store of the Dera and decamped with things worth Rs 70,000 
and tekg. of gold. This was reported to us by the granthi of the gurdwara. 
The report of the looting and killing was confirmed by an eyewitness/ 

31 Kuldip Nayar counted 'at least 300 bullet marks. One "bir" (Granth) 
was hit by a bullet.' 


Politics of Partition 

to Maharajah Ranjit Singh and presented by the Maharajah to 
the Golden Temple. The White Paper was roundly criticized by 
all opposition parties. Atal Behari Vajpayee, President of the 
BJP, who had lauded the army action, observed that 'it evaded 
more issues than it tackled/ India Today referred to it as 
'Operation White-Wash'. 32 

Accounts of the army's behaviour after the fighting was over 
made sorry reading. At the time when temperatures were in the 
soaring 120 degrees, prisoners (described officially as 'the 
enemy') were denied drinking water; many were made to crawl 
on their bellies on hot tarmac; soldiers went about the sacred 
premises with their shoes on, and drank rum and smoked 
cigarettes to soothe their overwrought nerves. A month after the 
operation there was still a notice board outside the debris of the 
Akal Takht asking soldiers to desist from drinking and smoking 
on the premises. 

The real question that the White Paper did not answer was 
whether there was no way of getting at Bhindranwale and his men 
other than an assault on the Temple with tanks and artillery. A 
look at the map of the Temple complex would make it clear that 
there were many alternatives. There are three main entrances: 
two from the northern side — one overlooking the clock tower and 
the other leading to the kitchen serai and offices of the SGPC — 
the third less frequented one is on the southern side. Besides 
these, there are narrow inlets largely used by people living in 
neighbouring streets. Every one of them had been guarded by 
armed police and paramilitary forces for several months before 
the operation. The Akal Takht stands clearly away from other 
temple buildings on the western end, with its rear end abutting 
a narrow bazar. By all accounts Bhindranwale had no more than 
300-400 men in arms at his disposal. Most of the time he had 
fewer than a dozen bodyguards with him when he received 
visitors and press-men. A determined body of commandos in 
plain clothes could have overpowered them with minimum loss 
of life. The Akal Takht could have been cordoned off, deprived 

32 India Today, 31 July 1984. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


of drinking water and rations and its inmates gassed into 
submission. 33 But the government, for reasons best known to it, 
first let leaders of the ruling party help Bhindranwale to build 
himself into a leader, allowed its police and paramilitary forces 
to turn a blind eye to the smuggling of arms into the temple and 
then ordered its army to storm it with tanks and heavy guns. 
Sikhs could be forgiven if they came to the conclusion that Mrs 
Gandhi's government meant to give their community a bloody 
punch on the nose. They were not likely to forget or forgive 
anyone who had anything to do with Operation Blue Star. 

Sikhs all over the world held prayers in their gurdwaras to 
mark the desecration of their Temple by the army. Massive 
demonstrations were organized in front of Indian embassies and 
consulates outside India. In many parts of India protesters 
clashed with the police, resulting in loss of lives. 

Prime Minister Indira Gandhi talked of the need for applying 
a healing touch to the Punjab and asked the people not to look 
upon the Sikhs as suspects. She also appealed to the Sikhs not 
to entertain any ideas of separatism. 34 How the healing touch 
was applied was a different story: Sikhs came to be treated as 
suspects, harassed and discriminated against. The government 
was armed with laws which enabled the police and minor civil 
servants to arrest people without warrants and hold them in 
detention without trial; those detained were deprived of their 
right to be represented by counsel, move writs of habeas corpus 
and were presumed to be guilty unless they proved their inno- 
cence. Special courts were set up in different towns in the Punjab 

33 The Indian army could have learnt some lessons in how to overcome 
groups of terrorists from the Israelis and the Germans who were able to 
rescue hostages several thousand miles away from their country. In May 
1988 when there was a similar build up of arms by terrorists in the Golden 
Temple, police sharpshooters forced 200 of them to surrender without 
entering the Temple. Only two terrorists were killed and one committed 
suicide in this operation named Black Thunder. 

34 Speech at Srinagar (Garhwhal) on 25 June 1984 reported by the UNI 


Politics of Partition 

with powers to conduct trials in camera and deal out summary 
justice with no right to appeal. 35 Since the army was ordered to 
stamp out terrorism it went about doing so in another operation 
it named Woodrose. Village after village was surrounded, the 
houses of Sikhs (never Hindus) were searched for arms, Sikh 
young men taken for questioning, beaten up and tortured. Criti- 
cism of the behaviour of the army was construed as an act of 
sedition. Amongst people charged and declared absconders 
and arrested were retired army officers. 36 

Human rights organizations like the Peoples Union for Civil 
Liberties headed by retired Justice V. M. Tarkunde carried out 
a survey of how ordinances and repressive laws were enforced 
in the Punjab. The most glaring instance of miscarriage of 
justice was the fate of 379 men, women and children arrested 
in the Golden Temple complex during Operation Blue Star. 37 

35 Amongst the list of draconian ordinances that were passed into acts 
were the Maintainance of Internal Security Act (MISA) of 1971; for the 
Punjab a special law was enacted entitled the Terrorist and Disruptive 
Activities (Prevention) Act of 1985. 

36 Ibid., p. 69. In Union Territory of Chandigarh vs Maj.-Gen. Narinder 
Singh, Brig. Joginder Singh Dhillon and Navrang Singh were charged with 
sedition. In the FIR no. 460/84 dated 15 July 1984 registered at PS East 
Chandigarh, the accused were said to have made provocative speeches. 
The FIR however shows that while the accused criticized the army action 
and complained about how army soldiers robbed some persons, there was 
nothing incendiary in their remarks. Worse still, the executive magistrate, 
Chandigarh issued a proclamation on 17 December 1984 declaring 'Joginder 
Singh Dhillon has absconded or is concealing himself, and demanding 
his presence by 30 January 1985 in his court.. Similar proclamations were 
issued against the other two co-accused. This, despite the fact that all three 
were present in Chandigarh at their residences. 

37 Amongst them was a woman, Inderjeet Kaur (35), the mother of four 
children who lived in a bazaar close by the Temple and, like many others, 
started her morning with prayer at the Temple. She, like all others, was 
picked up from the Golden Temple, detained under the National Security 
Act and given a cyclostyled copy of her grounds of arrest and a confession 
which she had to sign. The confession ran as follows; 'Stated that I am 
a resident of Atta Mandi, Amritsar and I am a member of All-India Sikh 
Students Federation and Dal Khalsa. Bhai Amrik Singh was President of 
these organizations. These organizations were associated with Sant 

Fatal Miscalculation 


Far from stamping out terrorism and the feeling of separa- 
tism, operations Blue Star and Woodrose engendered feelings 
of alienation and induced hundreds of young Sikh men and 
women to turn into terrorists. Many of those who were able to 
elude the army dragnet crossed the border into Pakistan and 
made it a base for their operations. They returned with sophis- 
ticated arms easily purchasable in Pakistan with money sent by 
sympathizers in England, Canada and the United States. They 
were able to perpetrate acts of terrorism because after the 
army's brutalities the peoples, sympathies were with them. 

The illusion that Operation Blue Star had brought the Sikhs 
to heel and that they would be amenable to compromise with the 
government was soon dispelled. Sullen resentment produced a 
sense of unity in the community. By incarcerating Sant Longowal 
and Tohra, then Badal and Barnala, the government created a 

Bhindranwale and we all acted according to the dictates of Sant Jarnail 
Singh Bhindranwale. In order to maintain the independent entity of Sikhs, 
our aim was to establish a separate state (Khalistan) with a separate 
constitution. In order to fulfil this mission we gathered lots of arms, 
ammunition, bombs and explosives from foreign countries. So that for the 
achievement of the Sikh state of Khalistan we should be able to strike the 
government. To fulfil this object 6000 persons were collected to whom arms 
training was imparted by retired Maj. Gen. Shahbheg Singh: who kept our 
objectives secret from the visitors to Darbar Sahib Amritsar and also the 
Government. On 5.6.84 the security forces deployed around Darbar Sahib 
gave us warning to come out of Darbar Sahib. About 120 persons came 
out of Darbar Sahib on their warning. We were in groups. Due to this firing 
the security forces continued upto 10.8.84. Following were the active 
members of our organization. 

I and these persons participated vigorously. At last the security forces 
stopped us after entering into Darbar Sahib. Many of our workers were 
killed during the encounter with the army. The army seized lots of arms 
and ammunition from the vicinity of Darbar Sahib. Apart from this many 
Pakistan army officers conspired with us and fought against the govern- 
ment. The government with the help of army has destroyed Darbar Sahib 
by firing on it and killing the Sikhs. We will vindicate this by killing four 
for each Sikh killed. Even if we are released, we will again collect arms 
and with our supporters fight for making Khalistan a separate State.' Black 
Laxvs 1984-85, Peoples Union for Civil Liberties, Delhi, pp. 65-6. 


Politics of Partition 

vaccum in the Akali leadership; their places were filled by men 
who felt compelled to adopt even more aggressive postures 
towards the government. A month after the operation, they called 
on the Sikhs to organize Shahidi Jathas (martyr squads) and 
march to Amritsar to liberate the Golden Temple complex from 
the clutches of the army. They also announced that the Akal 
Takht would be retained in its damaged state as a memorial to 
what the Indian army had done to it. 

The resurgent mood of belligerancy alarmed the government. 
Mrs Gandhi instructed Buta Singh to have the Akal Takht rebuilt 
in the quickest possible time. In the absence of the Akali 
leaders, the only people he could deal with were the High Priests 
of the Takhts. Even Gyani Kirpal Singh of the Akal Takht and 
Sahib Singh of the Harimandir, who had earlier given the army 
clean chits, sensed the resentment in the community and re- 
fused to oblige. Buta Singh approached Baba Kharak Singh, a 
venerated sant who had spent most of his life organizing volun- 
tary service in gurdwaras. Kharak Singh rudely rebuffed Buta 
Singh and told him that he would undertake the Kar Sewa only 
if asked by the high priests to do so. Buta Singh tried to bypass 
the high priests by calling a Sarbat Khalsa and got Santa Singh 
Nihang, 38 head of the Buddha Dal, to take the lead. The govern- 
ment-sponsored Sarbat Khalsa was convened on 11 August 1984 
with Santa Singh as President. Apart from Sikh members of the 
Congress party led by Barbara Singh, most of the others were 
peasants brought in on government transport for a free outing 
in Amritsar. Buta Singh utilized the occasion to condemn the 
Akalis. 'They have always misled the innocent Sikh masses and 
misused their facilities and funds/ he said. 39 Santa Singh 
pronounced an order of excommunication against Tohra. 40 The 
government also toyed with the idea of ammending the Sikh 
Gurdwaras Act to provide for a more amenable SGPC to manage 

38 Santa Singh Nihang was an enormous man allegedly addicted to 
bhang (hashish), who styled himself as SuItan-ul-Qaum — ruler of the com- 

39 India Today, 15 September 1984, p. 70. 

40 India Today, 30 September 1984. p. 38. 

Fatal Miscalculation 


the affairs of the Temple. The plan was abandoned and Buta 
Singh and Darbara Singh empowered to go ahead with the 
rebuilding of the Akal Takht. Apart from about 150 followers of 
Santa Singh Nihang, few Sikhs volunteered for service. Most of 
the work was entrusted to a contractor working under the 
supervision of the CPWD. The government contributed the gold 
required to cover the dome/ 41 

While the construction was going on the high priests sum- 
moned another Sarbat Khalsa. The Punjab government did its 
best to abort the move by putting up road blocks on approaches 
to Amritsar and issuing warnings to village headmen. Neverthe- 
less, the attendance at this Sarbat Khalsa on 1 and 2 September 
1984 was more than double that of the one convened by the 
government. At this assemblage President Zail Singh, Buta Singh 
and Santa Singh Nihang were declared tankhayias. It was also 
resolved that if the army did not clear out of the Temple complex 
by 1 October, shahidi jathas would move in to occupy it. 

Mrs Gandhi relented. On 25 September 1984 she announced 
that the army would be withdrawn from the Temple. 'Now that 
the repairs are completed, even the token presence of the army 
in the Golden Temple can be withdrawn, 1 she said. 42 President 
Zail Singh was anxious to be present at the handing over 
ceremony and have the order of excommunication against him 
withdrawn. His emissary succeeded in getting round the head 
priest. His speech on the occasion was construed as an apology. 
T ask for sincere forgiveness from the Gurus for the unfortunate 
incidents,' he said. 43 Jathedar Kirpal of the Akal Takht could 
afford to be more militant in tone: 'If the government continues 
its anti-Sikh attitude and treats us like second class citizens, it 
will not only endanger the unity of the country, but also cause 
communal disharmony,' He demanded that the ban on the 

41 The contractors were Messrs Skipper Construction Co., and Tejwant 
Singh, son of Professor Harbans Singh of the Bhai Vir Singh Sadan of 
New Delhi. Professor Singh had consistently supported the government. 

42 India Today, 14 October 1984, p. 55. 

43 Ibid., p. 58. 

44 Ibid., p. 56. 


Politics of Partition 

AISSF be withdrawn, Akali pleaders be released, mass arrests 
of young Sikhs be stopped and compensation paid to families 
which had suffered in the army action. 44 The order of excommu- 
nication against President Zail Singh was withdrawn. Buta Singh 
was not as lucky. He had more at stake, as his constituency was 
predominantly Sikh and the elections were due in a few months. 
He did his best to bargain over the restoration of buildings 
belonging to the SGPC and the return of some suspicious items 
including Pakistani currency, but the high priests did not relent. 

On 1 October 1984 the army withdrew from the Golden Temple. 
It did not hand over charge to the SGPC but to the high priests. 
The army action widened the gulf between the Hindus who had 
welcomed it and the Sikhs who had not, and gave the movement 
for Khalistan its first martyr in Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale. India 
had to pay a very heavy price for the miscalculation, the heaviest 
being the assassination of the miscalculator, Prime Minister 
Indira Gandhi. 

22. Assassination and After 

Anyone who knew anything about the Sikhs would have known 
that they were never likely to get the desecration of the 
Harimandir and the Akal Takht out of their minds; nor forgive 
anyone who had anything to do with it unless forgiveness was 
asked for. The spirit of vengeance and martyrdom remain deeply 
embedded in the Sikh pysche. There were many Sikhs in 1984 to 
prove that they had not changed. A large number of Bhindranwale's 
men had been able to get away when the army closed in on the 
Golden Temple; they knew full well that, if captured, no mercy 
would be shown to them and, if they committed more crimes, 
nothing worse could happen to them than being shot or hanged. 
There were many more who, when they saw the damage done to 
the Temple, swore oaths on the Holy Grarith that they would kill 
the people who they thought were responsible for the desecration, 
or die in the attempt. 1 Their hit lists included President Zail 
Singh, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, her son and his family, 
the Chief of the Army Staff, General A. S. Vaidya 2 , officers who 
took part in the storming of the Temple, and scores of others. 

1 In July 1984 Brigadier Jagir Singh (retd.) was arrested at Delhi airport 
on charges of being a part of a conspiracy hatched in New York to murder 
Mrs Gandhi. When presented before the court on 1 August 1984, the 
Brigadier stated, 'I am involved in a fabricated case. They say I wanted 
to kill the Prime Minister/ (India Today, 31 August 1984, p. 55.) The 
accused was subsequently discharged. 

2 General Vaidya was assassinated in Pune on 10 August 1986 by four 
gunmen. Responsibility for the crime was taken by the Khalsa Commando 


Politics of Partition 

This was common knowledge. Security precautions were 
tightened. All those who felt endangered were provided with 
bullet-proof vests and personal bodyguards. Amongst the most 
meticulously guarded was Mrs Gandhi. Her residence, 1 Safdar 
Jang Road and the house next door which had been converted 
into her personal secretariat were heavily patrolled at all times 
and every visitor had to go through metal detectors and body 
searches. An ambulance with bottles of blood of the requisite 
category and a doctor were always in attendance. Her security 
officers had advised her to remove Sikh guards from her 
residence; she had turned down the suggestion.* 

On the morning of 31 October 1984, having finished her work 
at her house, she came out to go to the garden of her office to 
keep an appointment with a BBC television team. As she was 
about to pass through the opening in the hedge which divided 
the gardens of the two houses, two of her Sikh security guards 
opened fire on her and pumped eighteen bullets into her frail 
body. Other guards present fired on the assailants. Both were 
captured alive, but one, Beant Singh (38), was killed in a melee 
in the office he was taken to; the other, Satwant Singh (21), was 
badly injured and taken to hospital. Mrs Gandhi, accompanied 
by her Italian daughter-in-law, Sonia, was rushed to the All-India 
Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) about four kilometres 

At the time of the shooting, President Zail Singh was on a state 
visit to North Yemen; Mrs Gandhi's son, Rajiv, was in Calcutta. 
The BBC announced the news of the attack at 10 a.m. (1ST); All- 
India Radio waited another hour to do so. Mrs Gandhi died 
at 2 p.m. The news was flashed by the major broadcasting 
systems of the world; All-India Radio announced her death in its 

Force. The General had received several threats to his life. 'If a bullet is 
destined to get me it will come with my name written on it,' he is reported 
to have said. (India Today, 31 August 1986, p. 26.) 

3 It would appear that Mrs Gandhi had premonitions of her death. The 
day before (30 October 1984) while canvassing votes for her party in Orissa 
she spoke of the possibility: 4 If I die . . . ' 

Assassination and After 


six o'clock news. All national newspapers brought out special 
bulletins stating, as officially briefed, that the assailants were 
'two Sikhs and one clean shaven Sikh.' 4 

After three years of communal killings in the Punjab, the 
murder of Mrs Gandhi was bound to have violent repercussions. 
Although the victims of killings in the Punjab included as many 
Sikhs as Hindus, since the killers were almost invariably Sikhs 
it was assumed that the entire community were to blame and 
deserved to be punished. What no doubt fueled this anti-Sikh 
feeling was the fact that hardly any Sikh leader of consequence 
had boldly spoken out against Bhindranwale or the killings of 
innocent Hindus by terrorist gangs. 

By the afternoon of 31 October crowds had begun to collect 
around the AIIMS and rough up Sikhs found in the vicinity. 
President Zail Singh, who received the news of Mrs Gandhi's 
death while on his way to Delhi, drove straight from the airport 
to the AIIMS. After having paid homage to Mrs Gandhi, as the 
President was on his way to Rashtrapati Bhavan, his car was 
stoned by the mob. Without consulting ministers of the central 
cabinet, senior members of the Congress party or chief minis- 
ters of the states, President Zail Singh decided to swear in Rajiv 
Gandhi as the Prime Minister of India. 5 Rajiv reconstituted his 

4 It was a well-established convention of the Indian press not to divulge 
the religious affiliations of persons involved in communal killings. The 
mystery of the third person being a clean-shaven Sikh was never solved as 
only two men were caught red-handed. Three men, Satwant Singh, Kehr 
Singh and Balbir Singh (along with Beant Singh, deceased) were found 
guilty of the murder of Mrs Gandhi. All three were sentenced to death by 
the Additional Sessions Judge of Delhi, Mahesh Chandra. The sentences 
were confirmed on 3 December 1986 by a bench of the Delhi High Court 
consisting of Justices S. Ranganathan, B. N. Kirpal and M. K. Chawla. The 
judgement was based on the confession of Satwant Singh (later retracted), 
documentary evidence found on the person of Balbir Singh, corroborated 
by the evidence tended by Beant Singh's widow, Bimal Kaur Khalsa and 
a policeman. (India Today, 31 December 1986.) 

5 Later in an interview with Onlooker magazine of Bombay, Zail Singh 
said that if he had appointed any of the three senior cabinet ministers, 
Pranab Mukherjee, P. V. Narasimha Rao or P. C. Sethi, there was 'every 


Politics of Partition 

cabinet, keeping the portfolios of Defence and External Affairs 
with himself. 

A certain amount of spontaneous anti-Sikh violence should 
have been anticipated and easily contained by swift, stern action 
by the police. What followed Mrs Gandhi's assassination tells 
a sordid tale of administrative and political complicity in a 
massacre of innocents of dimensions not seen in India since it 
became an independent state. 

From the AIIMS mobs fanned out to neighbouring localities. 
The police did nothing to check them. By sunset, Sikh-owned 
shops in New Delhi's main shopping centre, Connaught Circus, 
were being looted and set on fire. Huge crowds watched the 
scene; the police, which was present in large numbers, remained 
passive spectators. Taxis, trucks, three-wheelers and scooters 
driven by Sikhs were wrecked and set alight. Clouds of smoke 
billowed from different localities, the evening sky glowed like 
burning amber. It was evident that the city was going up in flames 
and unless the fire was doused quickly, it would engulf the entire 
city. Till then there were no reports of Sikhs being killed. 

Neither the central government nor the Delhi administration 
showed much eagerness to grapple with the situation. It later 
transpired that the Delhi administration was taking orders from 
leaders of the local Congress party and that in other states where 
the Congress was in power the police had been instructed not 
to interfere: the Sikhs had to be taught a lesson they would not 
easily forget. The initial spontaneous outburst of anti-Sikh feel- 
ing was meticulously fanned into a vast conflagration which 

possibility of a split in the Congress party, which would not be in the interest 
of the country at that critical juncture and there was no other party to 
replace the Congress.' He added. 'I also wanted to repay a part of my debt 
to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. I was, after all, a protege of Panditji [Nehru] 
and Mrs Gandhi had appointed me first as Union Home Minister and then 
nominated me to the highest office in the land. Lastly, I thought Rajiv 
Gandhi had a modern mind, a clean public image and pleasant personality 
and was moreover, known all over the country and abroad. I thought he 
would steer the nation through the crisis it was facing.' (Indian Express, 18 
February 1988.) 

Assassination and After 


engulfed most of northern India. Apart from a few sporadic 
instances in Tamil Nadu, such violence was confined to states 
ruled by the Congress party and masterminded by local leaders 
which included some members of Parliament. 

Operation 'Teach the Sikhs a lesson' was put in motion on the 
night of 31 October. First, rumours were set afloat that Sikhs 
were celebrating the murder of Mrs Gandhi by dancing the 
bhangra in the streets, illuminating their homes and distributing 
sweets. 6 This was followed by spreading stories that train-loads 
of Hindus murdered by Sikhs had arrived from the Punjab in 
Delhi. By midnight yet another rumour was floated that Sikhs 
had poisoned Delhi's drinking water. 7 Meanwhile, the govern- 
ment-controlled TV (Doordarshan) continuously showed pic- 
tures of Mrs Gandhi's body lying in state and a grief-stricken 
Rajiv Gandhi receiving visitor s, with occasional shots of crowds 
yelling slogans: 'khoon ka budla khoon say lengey — we will avenge 
blood by blood and 'Indira Gandhi Zindabad" — long live Indira 
Gandhi. Having prepared the ground, Congress party cadres 
commissioned trucks to bring in villagers from the outlying 
localities, armed them with iron rods and cans of gasoline. They 
were assured that the police would not interfere. It did not need 
much inducement to get young Jats, Gujjars and lower-caste 
Hindus to come and help themselves to whatever they could lay 
their hands on, of the belongings of the more affluent Sikhs. 
What motivated these lumpen elements was the promise of loot: 
killing, arson and rape were an additional bonus which also gave 
them justification for what they were doing. They showed neither 
anger nor grief at the slaying of the Prime Minister. 

6 Investigations carried out by independent organizations could not 
establish a single instance of such celebrations anywhere in India. There 
were, however, celebrations by small groups in England, Canada and the 
United States, 

7 According to the report prepared by the People's Union for Demo- 
cratic Rights and the People's Union for Civil Liberties, the spreading of 
both those rumours confirmed independent evidence 'of policemen in vans 
touring certain localities and announcing through loud-speakers the arrival 
of the train and the poisoning of water.' (Who Are The Guilty? p. 2.) 


Politics of Partition 

There was little chance of the Sikhs putting up resistance. They 
formed barely 7.5 per cent of the population of Delhi compared 
to the 83 per cent of Hindus. And unlike the Muslims who lived in 
compact mohallas (localities) and had experience of communal 
rioting, Sikhs lived amongst Hindus without any fear of violence 
from them. Also unlike Muslims, who could not be identified at 
a distance, the distinct appearance of Sikh males made the 
aggressors' task much simpler. They also had to contend with 
Congress party workers armed with voters' list to direct rioters to 
Sikh homes, shops and other properties. So the killing of Sikhs 
began in right earnest from the morning of 1 November and 
continued unabated till Mrs Gandhi's funeral on the afternoon of 
3 November. In Delhi almost a hundred Sikh gurdwaras were 
burnt and thousands of Sikh shops, homes and factories looted 
and gutted. Young Sikh women were gang-raped, and Sikhs, 
particularly those between the ages of 15 and 50, brutally mur- 
dered. Trains and buses were halted, and Sikh passengers 
dragged out and murdered. Amongst train casualties were scores 
of army officers in uniforms. The killings followed a set pattern. 
The victims were first bludgeoned with iron rods, then doused 
with petrol and set alight. In the later stages of the holocaust, 
a certain amount of finesse was added to the method of killing: 
the victim's hands were pinioned behind him and a burning 
motor tyre lowered around his neck like a flaming garland. 8 

It would be impossible to find out the exact number of Sikhs 
killed in those four days. Government-controlled media and 
handouts issued by official agencies first put the figure at under 
400. It transpired that the number of Sikh women widowed in 
the first two days of the killings in Delhi alone, and who had 
sought shelter in refugee camps, exceeded 1000. Besides Delhi, 
pogroms against Sikhs had taken place in Himachal Pradesh, 
Haryana, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh; the 
worst hit were cities like Kanpur, Lucknow, Ranchi and Rourkela 
in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar. The figure of 10,000 Sikhs killed 

8 There were several instances of Punjabi Hindus coming to the rescue 
of Sikhs. So did members of Hindu organizations like the BJP and the RSS. 

Assassination and After 


(more than half of them in the capital) would not be an exag- 
geration. 9 The extent of damage to Sikh property was even more 
difficult to estimate as it included wrecking large establish- 
ments like three bottling plants belonging to Messrs Pure Drinks 
which were worth crores of rupees, to small shops and plants 
worth a few thousand. Over 50,000 Sikhs were lodged in refugee 
camps in Delhi. Between 20,000 to 30,000 Sikh families fled 
from their homes in different parts of India and migrated to the 

Could the general massacre of the Sikhs ha\e been prevented? 
There can be little doubt that if the central government had 
wanted to do so it could have considerably minimized the loss of 
Sikh life and property. The new prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, who 
also had the Defence portfolio, was fully appraised of the extent 
of the violence taking place. On the evening of 31 October he 
called a meeting at which the Lt. Governor of Delhi, the Police 
Commissioner and M. L. Fotedar (a close confidant of the Gandhi 
family and later a member of Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet) were 
present. At this meeting 'a senior police officer expressed the 
view that the army should be called out as otherwise there would 
be a holocaust. No attention was paid to the view/ 10 The same 
evening the new Home Minister, P. V. Narasimha Rao, assured 
the BJP leader, Atal Behari Vajpayee that 'everything would be 
brought under control within a couple of hours/ 11 Over All-India 
Radio the Prime Minister appealed for peace but made no effort 
to see that it was heard; no curfew was imposed on the first night. 
Citizens who dared to brave their way to the President's and 
ministers' houses on the next morning (1 November) were as- 
sured that 'the army was about to be called and the curfew about 
to be reimposed.' 12 Section 144 of the IPC, which prohibits 

9 Romesh Thapar, editor of Seminar, estimated the loss of Sikh life in 
Delhi as between 6000-8000, including 30 officers in uniform, 2000 trucks 
and taxis destroyed and property worth Rs 300 crores looted and burnt. 
(Illustrated Weekly of India, 23-9 December 1984, p. 12.) 

10 Who Are The Guilty? p. 6. 

11 The Statesman, 10 November 1984. 

12 Who Are The Guilty J p. 6. 


Politics of Partition 

assemblies of four of more persons, was promulgated and curfew 
imposed on the afternoon of 1 November. Rampaging mobs 
ignored both orders and went about their nefarious tasks 
with complete impunity. The police stood by idly watching the 
scene or instigated mobs to violence and shared their loot. On 
2 November, newspapers boldly announced that an indefinite 
curfew and 'shoot at sight' orders had been issued to the police 
and the army. No one was shot at sight, nor was the army deployed 
till 3 November and that, too, largely to provide security for 
the world statesmen who had come to attend Mrs Gandhi's 
funeral. By then Delhi's thirst for Sikh bloood had been slaked. 

The government's behaviour after the worst was over brought 
it little credit. In his first public meeting on 19 November (Mrs 
Gandhi's birth anniversary, Rajiv Gandhi almost condoned the 
violence in one sentence 'when a mighty banyan tree falls, the 
earth beneath it is bound to shake.* 13 He did not have a word of 
sympathy for the families of the victims of the massacre. The 
only people punished were Lt. Governor P. G. Gavai, who was 
sent on leave, and the Commissioner of Police, who was sus- 
pended. The Home Minister and the Home Secretary whose job 
it was to oversee the maintainance of law and order in the country 
were in fact rewarded: Home Minister Narasimha Rao became 
the senior-most member of the cabinet; Home Secretary M. M. K. 
Wall was appointed Lt. Governor of Delhi. 

The 1809 men arrested for these crimes were released on 
bail, or let off on the intercession of Congress party leaders. The 
government refused to institute an enquiry into the holocaust on 
the plea that it would prove counterproductive. 14 But there were 
people who felt that if crimes of this magnitude were swept under 

13 The Hindustan Times, 20 November 1984. 

14 In reply to the allegation made by K. P. Unnikrishnan, MP, that 
Congress (I) workers were involved in the killings, the Prime Minister 
replied: 'You have been perpetuating this canard with ulterior motives.' 
(India Today, 15 December 1984, p. 32.) When questioned on the subject 
by a correspondent of India Today during his election campaign in Amethi, 
he replied: 'We have asked the commissioner of police to go into the 
question and since the whole police outfit has been checked up they are 

Assassination and After 


the carpet of oblivion they would begin to stink and encourage 
victims to take the law into their own hands. The first to take 
the lead in the matter were The People's Union for Democratic 
Rights and The People's Union for Civil Liberties. Information 
was gathered by volunteers of the Nagrik Ekta Manch from 
survivors of the carnage and eyewitnesses. Not one member of 
these originations was a Sikh. Their findings were published in 
November 1984 under the title Who Are The Guilty? After nar- 
rating the sequence of events they were bold enough to publish 
the names of politicians, policemen and others who had been 
identified by victims and eyewitnesses as instigators of the 
violence: they included a member of Rajiv Gandhi's cabinet, 
H. \L L. Bhagat and three members of Parliament, Jagdish Tytler 
(elevated to the ministry a few months later) , Sajjan Kumar and 
Dharam Kumar Shastri. Other politicians included members of 
the Delhi Municipal Corporation, 15 members of the Metropolitan 
Council, 16 and a few youth leaders. Thirteen police officers were 
named for instigating mobs and sharing the loot; another 198 
were named for participating in different crimes. It was a chal- 
lenge thrown to the men named to take these organizations to 
court on charges of criminal libeL Not one dared to pick up the 
gauntlet. The government remained unimpressed. 

Who Are The Guilty? was followed by another report published 
by a high powered non-official commission of enquiry 17 headed 

expected to do their job.' The journal did not buy this version and wrote: 
'It is purely out of political compulsion that he refused to order a judicial 
enquiry into the communal riots in Delhi and other places as it might have 
led to the indictment of some members of his own party.' 

15 Babu Ram Shashi, Mangat Ram Singal, Dr Ashok Kumar, Jagdish 
Chandra, Ishwar Singh. 

16 Lalit Makan, Mahaindra and Sohan Lai Sood. 

17 This was at the request of retired Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh, 
Mrs Tara Ali Baig, Dharma Vira (former principal private secretary to 
Pandit Nehru, cabinet secretary and governor), Miss C. B. Mutharnma (ex- 
ambassador), Bhagwan Sahay (ex-governor), H. D. Shourie (Director, 
Common Cause), L. P. Singh (ex-Home Secretary and governor), Soli 
Sorabji (ex-Solicitor General), Sukhjit Singh of Kapurthala and T. 
Swaminathan (ex-Cabinet Secretary and Chief Election Commissioner) . 


Politics of Partition 

by a retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, S. M. Sikri. Its 
other members were Badruddin Tyabji; (ex-ambassador, Com- 
monwealth Secretary and Vice Chancellor of Aligarh Univer- 
sity), Rajeshwar Dayal (ex-Foreign Secretary, ambassador and 
a visiting Fellow at Ofcford University), Govind Narain (ex-Home 
and Defence Secretary and governor) , and T. C. A. Shrinivas- 
vardan (ex-Home Secretary). The commission visited the sites 
of violence, examined victims, eyewitnesses and affidavits sub- 
mitted to them. Despite repeated requests to Prime Minister 
Rajiv Gandhi and the'Home Minister Narasimha Rao, both men 
refused to receive the commission. 

The commission published its findings on 18 January 1985. 
It concluded that 'the brutal killing of Smt Indira Gandhi 
sparked off these atrocities. The remarkable pattern of the 
crimes committed, with some local variations, strongly suggest 
that at some stage the objective became to "teach the Sikhs a 
lesson." The avoidable and abysmal failure of the administration 
and the police; the instigation by dubious political elements; the 
equivocal role of the information media; and the inertia, apathy 
and indifference of the official machinery, all lead to the infer- 
ences that follow. 1 The inferences were that after 'the climate 
of violence and terrorism' built up in the Punjab and Delhi, the 
administration should have taken greater precautions to protect 
political personalities; that 'the time gap between the attempt 
on the person of the Prime Minister and the official announce- 
ment of her death, should have provided the administration with 
more than adequate notice for taking preventive measures 
against civil disorder and violence'; that 'no evidence of any sort 
has come to our notice that an attempt was made to enforce 
prohibitary orders either during the night of 31 October, or on 
the following morning.' 18 And so on. 

The government refused to take notice of this commission's 
findings and continued to maintain in Parliament that an official 
judicial enquiry would only make the problem of the Sikhs of 
Delhi worse; and if there had to be such an enquiry it would be 

18 Mishra Commission. 

Assassination and After 


a part of a package deal with the Akali leaders — not with the 
nation's conscience, but as a part of give and take with a political 
party. Ultimately a commission of enquiry was conceded as a 
part of the accord (dealt with in the next chapter). The way it 
went about its task was obviously riot designed to identify the 
guilty but to cover up their crimes. Justice Ranganath Mishra of 
the Supreme Court, who was appointed as the one-man commis- 
sion to look into the matter, knew full well that several prominent 
members of the ruling party, including some holding ministerial 
posts, had been named as instigators, and that the Prime 
Minister himself had shown marked reluctance to have them 

The case of the victims was presented by the Citizens Justice 
Committee (CJC) headed by the retired Chief Justice of the 
Supreme Court, S. M. Siki i. The briefs were prepared by a team 
led by the retired Justice, V. M. Tarkunde, and presented before 
the Commission by one of India's leading lawyers, Soli Sorabji. 
The CJC submitted more than 6000 affidavits and over a hun- 
dred witnesses against politicians and policemen involved in 
instigating the anti-Sikh violence. The commission was empow- 
ered to appoint an independent investigating agency to assist it. 
It chose to appoint a junior superintendent of police to head this 
agency. Whereas the affidavits and testimonies provided by the 
CJC were subjected to cross examination, its request for copies 
of affidavits presented by those named were turned down and 
even the identities of those who had sworn them not disclosed. 
Not one officer of the Delhi administration was produced in the 
witness box. The request for submission of vital police reports 
summoned by the CJC was refused. An order lor summoning 
nine senior officials responsible for the maintenance of law and 
order during the period was also turned down. The same police 
officers against whom allegations of intimidation and harass- 
ment had been made by the witnesses were entrusted the task 
of investigating the allegations. Ultimately, the CJC decided to 
withdraw from the commission. It presented a detailed memo- 
randum giving its reasons for doing so. Said Justice Tarkunde: 
*We did not feel there was any point in our participating any 


Politics of Partition 

more. This has been a one-sided investigation. We were never 
given a chance to participate in it as we had been promised/ 19 
The full text of the Mishra Commission report was not 
released to the public— only its estimate of the number of people 
killed and its strictures against the police. By implication it 
exonerated the ruling Congress party and politicians named in 
Who Are The Guilty? It recommended the appointment of other 
agencies to identify and prosecute people against whom charges 
had been laid. Till four years after the killing of thousands of 
Sikhs, not one person had been punished. 

19 India Today, 30 April 1986, p. 53. 

23. Elections and the Accord 

The general election of December 1984 was fought by the 
Congress party on the issue of the integrity of the country. 
A massive propaganda campaign 1 was launched to convince the 
electorate that those who had killed Mrs Gandhi had meant to 
destroy India's unity and Mrs Gandhi had laid down her life to 
preserve it. Huge coloured posters depicting her body on a bier 
draped in a saffron sari were splashed all over the country; some 
showed Sikhs in uniform shooting at her. Other posters showed 
rolls of barbed wire alongside a slogan: 'Will the country's 
border finally be moved to your doorstep? 1 And beneath it was 
another slogan: 'India could be your vote away from unity or 
separatism.' Less subtle was one posed in the form of a question: 
'Why should you feel uncomfortable riding in a taxi driven by a 
taxi driver who belongs to another state?' 2 If these slogans did 
not convey the message, those shouted by Rajiv Gandhi's sup- 
porters in his constituency against his Sikh sister-in-law Maneka 
(the widow of Sanjay Gandhi) were blunt and to the point: 

Beti hai Sardar ki 

Qaum hai ghaddar ki 

(She is the daughter of a Sikh, She belongs to a race of traitors.) 

1 According to many observers, the Congress party spent over Rs 300 
crores on its election campaign. Advertising alone cost it Rs 13 crores. 
Advertisements in nine languages were prepared by a Bombay agency, 
Rediffasion. (Illustrated Weekly of India, 13 January 1985, p. 22.) 

2 Ibid. 


Politics of Partition 

The chief vote-winner for the Congress party was the martyred 
amma — mother. Millions of bindis (dots worn on the forehead 
by Hindu women) showing a smiling Indira blessing her son 
were distributed free; cassettes of her speeches, mostly on the 
'If I die today, every drop of my blood will invigorate the nation' 
theme were played at election meetings. 3 Then there were 
portraits of Rajiv Gandhi as the young, handsome, incorruptible 
and forward-looking prince who would sweep the dirt of politics 
from the land. He was *Mr Clean* leading a band of youthful, 
dedicated men who would usher in the computer age and take 
India from its feudal backwardness into the twenty-first century. 

No previous general election had been fought by the Congress 
party with as much professional skill, using modern techniques 
of marketing; nor was as much money spent by it as in this 
general election. It paid handsome dividends, generating a 
breeze which blew opposition off northern India's electoral 
platforms. The Congress party under Rajiv Gandhi carried 
nearly half the electorate of the country and captured 80 per cent 
of the seats in the Lok Sabha; 410 out of a total of 540. This was 
more than it had ever won under Prime Minister Nehru or Indira 
Gandhi. Rajiv Gandhi had indeed bettered expectations. How- 
ever, it is worth noting that it was largely in states where anti- 
Sikh feeling was strong that the Congress won its most convincing 
victories; in other states like West Bengal, Assam, and in 
southern states like Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka 
where the electorate was largely unaware of the perfidies alleged 
to have been committed by the Sikhs, the opposition parties were 
able to hold their own. 

In his first nation-wide broadcast on 5 January 1985 following 
his electoral triumph, Rajiv Gandhi said that he gave settlement 
of the Punjab problem 'top priority'. A day earlier he had 

3 In a note alleged to have been written a day before her assassination, 
Mrs Gandhi wrote: If I die a violent death as some fear and a few are 
plotting, I know the violence will be in the thought and the action of the 
assassin, not in my dying for no hate is dark enough to overshadow the extent 
of my love for my country; no force strong enough to divert me from my pur- 
pose and my endeavour to take this country forward. 1 (Unholy Terror, p. 1.) 

Elections and the Accord 


constituted a cabinet sub-committee comprising S. B. Chavan, 
P. V. Narasimha Rao and K. C. Pant to advise him on how to go 
about tackling it. Since elections in ten states had been sched- 
uled for the first week of March, the sub-committee was not able 
to pay any attention to the Punjab till they were over. The 
Congress party's repeat performance in most states coincided 
with the Akali's impatience with the government's seeming 
indifference towards the Sikhs. On 7 March 1985 the Akali Dal 
and the S.G.P.C. issued an ultimatum to the government that, 
if a judicial enquiry into the killing of Sikhs in November 1984 
was not instituted and their leaders not released by the first day 
of Baisakh (13 April), they would launch yet another agitation, 
to be known as 'genocide week'. 4 

Rajiv Gandhi did not want another confrontation with the 
Akalis. With two convincing electoral victories under his belt and 
no political hang-ups to cloud his vision, he got down to trying 
to solve the Punjab problem. His approach was completely 
different from that of his mother's. She had always kept her 
party's electoral prospects uppermost in her mind, was never in 
a hurry to settle any problem and usually averse to making any 
settlement which would give her political adversaries credit in 
the eyes of the people. Since the death of her favourite younger 
son and chosen successor, Sanjay Gandhi, in an air accident on 
23 June 1980, she had become dithering and indecisive and 
found some excuse or the other to put off a settlement with the 
Akalis. As a result, moderates who had dealt with her govern- 
ment had steadily lost ground to the extremists led by 
Bhindranwale. Rajiv Gandhi reversed the policy and decided to 
build up a moderate Akali leadership in the expectation that it 
would be able to contend with the extremists. 

4 The ad hoc convenor of the Akali Dal, Surjan Singh Thekedar, the 
acting head of the SGPC, Prem Singh Lalpura, the Five head priests and 
ex-Justice Minister, Balbir Singh, held the posts in the absence of Akali 
leaders in jail. Atma Singh, senior vice-president of the SGPC (Talwandi 
faction) said 'the longer an overall settlement is delayed, the greater will 
be the danger of hard core elements assuming pre-eminence in the voice 
of the communists.' India Today, 15 February 1985. 


Politics of Partition 

The strategy adopted was to make gestures of goodwill 
towards the Akalis, watch their reactions and those of the 
community before deciding on the next step. On 12 March 1985 
eight top Akali leaders, including Sant Longowal and Barnala 
(both moderates) and Talwandi (extremist) were released. 
Tohra and Badal stayed in jail. Two days later, Arjun Singh, 
who only a day earlier had been sworn in as Chief Minister of 
Madhya Pradesh, was appointed Governor of the Punjab. There- 
after it was Arjun Singh more than anyone else who advised the 
central government on the step-by-step approach to the problem. 
By then the cabinet sub-committee had toured the state and 
gauged the mood of the people. First, censorship on the Punjab 
press was relaxed; then army control over certain districts 
was withdrawn. On 11 April 1985 the government announced 
its willingness to institute a judicial enquiry into the November 
1984 killings, it lifted the ban on the AISSF and agreed to 
review the cases of detainees. On the first day of Baisakh 
the initial batch of 53 were released and Rajiv Gandhi reiterated 
his resolve to settle the Punjab problem. On his first visit to 
the Punjab on 23 March 1985 at Hussainiwala he announced 
economic measures, including the setting up of a rail coach 
factory at Kapurthala, which would absorb about 20,000 skilled 

For a while the government watched how the Sikh masses 
would react to the Akali leaders. The general feeling was 
that they had disgraced Sikh traditions by tamely surrendering 
to the army. Since Sant Longowal had been President of the 
Akali Dal and dictator of the Dharam Yudh Morca, the task of 
explaining what had transpired fell on his shoulders. He 
addressed meetings all over the state as well as in Delhi. He 
did not mince his words, criticizing the central government 
and the army and even praising Mrs Gandhi's assassins. 5 At 
the same time, he condemned terrorism, denounced secession- 
ism and pleaded for harmony between Sikhs and Hindus. 
Punjabis who had lived through four years of fear and turbulence 

5 India Today, 30 April 1985. 

Elections and the Accord 


enthusiastically responded to his call. The extremists found 
themselves being pushed out of the mainstream. On 25 March 
1985, half of Talwandi 's supporters deserted him and en bloc 
joined LongowaFs group. After the eclipse of Talwandi, the 
government released Tohra on 19 April and, a few days 
later, Badal. Now it could watch which of the three it should deal 

Tohra, who had been President of the SGPC for thirteen years, 
was known to harbour pro-Khalistani sympathies. His reputation 
was at its lowest and the best he could do on arming at the 
Golden Temple in front of a hostile congregation was to an- 
nounce that the Akal Takht rebuilt by the impious' hands of 
Baba Santa Singh Nihang and Buta Singh, both of whom had 
been declared tankhaiyas, with the help of the CPWD, would be 
demolished to be rebuilt through genuine kar seva — voluntary 
service. He hoped this would refurbish his image. Not much 
attention was paid to the suggestion at the time and, six months 
later, it was the extremists of the AISSF that took the initiative 
out of his hands to begin the work of demolition and rebuilding. 
Tohra, for the time being, decided to ride the Longowal band- 
wagon. Badal, still undecided on the line to take, expressed 
support for Sant Longowal. 

Talwandi made an abortive attempt at a coup to capture the 
Akali Dal by getting Baba Joginder Singh, the octogenarian 
father of Bhindranwale to take over the party. With him was 
Bimal Kaur Khalsa, the widow of one of Mrs Gandhi's assassins, 
Beant Singh. In the name of Panthic unity the Baba asked 
Akali Dal office holders to submit their resignations to him 
and proceeded to reconstitute its executive committee in which 
he gave extremists predominance over the moderates. Sant 
Longow r al promptly put in his resignation and announced his 
retirement from politics and returned to his village. The gamble 
paid off. Senior leaders of the party, including former members 
of the Central and State legislatures, went to his village 
retreat and persuaded him to return to the helm of affairs. 
Talwandi and his aged pawn were effectively checkmated. 
On 14 May 1985 they set up a rival United Akali Dal (UAD) 


Politics of Partition 

which became an umbrella organization of extremists, includ- 
ing Khalistanis, the AISSF and sundry gangs of terrorists. 6 
The confrontation proved that the Sikh masses had more 
confidence in the moderates led by Sant Longowal than in the 

Governor Arjun Singh, who had sounded Longowal, Tohra 
and Badal, correctly assessed that the man he should deal 
with was Sant Longowal. 7 Following his (the Governor's) advice, 
the central government proceeded to build up the Sant's 
credibility with his people. On 27 June, it announced that Justice 
R. N. Mishra of the Supreme Court would investigate the 
anti-Sikh violence of November 1984. Governor Arjun Singh 
began to release Sikh detainees. By mid-July over 1700 were 

Resuming a dialogue with the Akalis was a tricky business, 
as experience had proved that anyone known to deal with the 
government was promptly denounced as an agent. The opening 
move was made on 2 July 1985 by Rajiv Gandhi sending a secret 
and confidential letter to Sant Longowal on the feasibility of re- 
opening negotiations. Only a handful of people were made privy 
to this move. On his side, Sant Longowal sounded senior Akali 
leaders. Tohra and Badal counselled caution; Barnala and 
Balwant advised him to go ahead. Caught in conflicting advice, 
the devout Sant turned for guidance to the Holy Grahth. After 

6 Tohra admitted his difficulties. He said: 'How can we control the 
Punjab youth when we have nothing to offer them? The government 
can strengthen our hands by conceding the Anandpur Sahib Resolu- 
tion, abolishing Special Courts and withdrawing the Disturbed Areas 
Act before any talks/ (To a correspondent of India Today, 15 May 1985. 
p. 20.) 

7 Communication with Sant Longowal who was lodged in a guest house 
in Udaipur was established. The Sant had refused to meet Buta Singh in 
the second week of November because he had been declared a tankhaiya, 
but he received Ravi Inder Singh, ex-Speaker of the Punjab Assembly, and 
Narendra Singh of Nabha. He also received R. V. Subramaniam, senior 
adviser to the Punjab governor, the first official to meet him after his arrest. 
All three reported that the Sant was not against reopening a dialogue with 
the government. 

Elections and the Accord 


prayer he took the Vaak* It was a hymn of Guru Arjun to the effect 
that a true Sikh should not be in two minds since the Guru was 
his guide. The Sant agreed to meet the Prime Minister in Delhi 
on 23 July 1985. 

Both parties realized that, in order to succeed, utmost se- 
crecy had to be maintained and politicians likely to raise 
obstacles should be kept out and presented with a fait accompli. 
On his side, the Prime Minister chose Governor Arjun Singh as 
his only confidant. The meetings were fixed for days when 
President Zail Singh would be away from Delhi. Minister Buta 
Singh and ex-Chief Minister Darbara Singh were kept in the 
dark. Bhajan Lai, Chief Minister of Haryana, was instructed to 
keep himself available. His potential for mischief was tempo- 
rarily curbed by presenting him with a list of charges of corrup- 
tion levelled against him. The chief minister of Rajasthan was 
not consulted. The Sant likewise chose to ignore Tohra and 
Badal and rely on the counsels of Barnala and Balwant Singh. 

Sant Longowafs two advisers were flown into Delhi at night 
and returned before dawn to Chandigarh. On 23 July 1985, the 
Sant met the Prime Minister. By then all points of dispute had 
been amicably resolved. The next morning, 24 July 1985, the two 
men put their signatures to an eleven-point memorandum, 9 
covering all the major issues which had defied solution since the 
Akalis had first presented their list of demands. The spirit of 
accommodation was evident on both sides. Five of the eleven 
points of settlement had nothing to do with the Akali's original 
charter of demands; three were concerned with religious, cul- 
tural and linguistic matters, most of which had already been 
conceded by Mrs Gandhi; only the remaining three dealt with 
substantial issues like territorial, adjustments and the distribu- 
tion of river waters. It is significant that a similar accord could 

8 Vaak (word) — a practice common among many communities, consists 
of opening a holy book (in the case of Muslims, the works of Hafiz) and 
reading a message from the first lines in the left page. The vaak in this 
case was Dubidha chadd^ guru terey ang sang shed double-mindedness, the 
Gum is with you. (The Tribune, 26 July 1983.) 

9 See Appendix. 


Politics of Partition 

have been signed two years earlier if Mrs Gandhi had not changed 
her mind at the last minute. The accord signed by Sant Longowal 
and Rajiv Gandhi cleared a point that as far as the moderate 
Akalis were concerned, they never construed the Anandpur Sahib 
Resolution as a demand for secession or separatism but only 
for greater autonomy of the Punjab. They readily agreed to 
submit the resolution to the Sarkaria Commission. 

Inevitably, leaders who had not been taken into confidence in 
the negotiations felt left out and humiliated: chief among them 
were Tohra and Badal on the Akali side, Buta Singh and Darbara 
Singh on the side of the government. Sant Longowal decided to 
take the issue to the Sikh masses. Before a vast assemblage 
convened at Anandpur on 26 July 1985 he presented the accord 
to the district party leaders for acceptance or rejection. It was 
accepted with acclamation. 10 But Tohra and Badal refused to be 
reconciled and described it as a sell-out. On the government 
side, Buta Singh and Darbara Singh bided their time to throw 
in a spanner. 

Rajiv Gandhi took another bold step by announcing that, 
despite continuing terrorism, Punjab would go to the polls in the 
third week of September. The extremists, led by the UAD, 
called for a boycott of the elections. Not many people heeded 
their call. In sheer desperation they decided to eliminate the 
man who had robbed them of all credibility. On 21 August 1985, 
while seated in front of the Granth in a crowded village gurdwara, 
a gang of terrorists shot Sant Harchand Singh Longowal dead. 

The Election of 1985 

The September 1985 election in the Punjab for the 13 parliamen- 
tary and 117 assembly seats deserves close scrutiny as it was 
more in the nature of a referendum on the accord than a contest 
between political parties. What made it more interesting was 

10 A public-opinion survey of Punjabi response to the accord was carried 
out by the Times of India. It showed that 81 per cent of those asked 
approved of it: 1 1 per cent disapproved; 31 per cent had nothing to say. 

Elections and the Accord 


that the two major contestants for power, the Akali Dal and the 
Congress, were both in favour of the accord and condemned 
terrorism. The Akalis had their martyr in Sant Longowal; the 
Congress discreetly avoided any references to Mrs Gandhi's 
martyrdom. Their manifestos were largely devoted to plans for 
economic regeneration which were also along the same lines, 
rather than on their political differences. Even more surprising 
was the fact that though the Akali Dal gained an almost two-third 
majority in the State Assembly, this was more due to the vagaries 
of the electoral system than to any significant shift in the power 
bases of the Akali Dal, the Congress or the two Communists 
parties; only the right-wing, largely Hindu party the Jan Sangh, 
renamed the Bharatiya Janata Party, was almost wiped out of 

For the first time in its political career the Akali Dal entered 
the fray as a regional rather than an exclusively religious party. 
Among the candidates it fielded were six Hindus, one Muslim 
and one Christian. The UAD's call for a boycott was ignored 
even by its own supporters. Among those who entered the fray 
was Bimal Kaur Khalsa, who filed her nomination papers from 
two constituencies. The number of candidates per seat was 
higher than ever before, making a total of 832, including 30 
women. There were 74 candidates including 6 women for the 13 
Lok Sabha seats. The turnout of voters (almost 67 per cent) was 
also higher than in previous elections. 

The events of the preceding four years, beginning with 
Bhindranwale's fulminations against the Hindus and the 'Hindu 
government' at the centre, then Operation Blue Star followed 
by Operation Woodrose, Mrs Gandhi's assassination, and the 
widespread anti-Sikh violence that resulted, had undoubtedly 
widened the chasm between the two communities and it was 
assumed that most Sikhs including the urban and the scheduled 
caste would vote for Akalis and most Hindus would vote for 
Congress or BJP. That was not how it turned out to be. A 
substantial number of Sikhs voted for the Congress and a large 
number of Hindus who voted Congress for the parliamentary 
seats voted for Akali Dal candidates in the State Assembly. 


Politics of Partition 

The results were more flattering to the Akalis than the 
percentage of votes cast for them. For the 13 Lok Sabha seats 
they fielded 11 candidates of whom 7 were successful. The 
Congress, which contested all the 13 seats, won the remaining 
6. But the Akalis won their 7 seats with a turnout of 37.18 per 
cent of the votes, whereas the Congress won only 6 with a turnout 
of 41.53 per cent of the votes. The results of the State Assembly 
were equally surprising. Of the total of 115 seats contested (two 
were countermanded thanks to the deaths of candidates) the 
Akalis contested 100 and won 73 on a 38.55 percentage of votes, 
whereas the Congress, w T hich contested all of them and got a 
marginally lower percentage (37.86), won only 32 seats. It was 
obvious that there was no significant switch over of political 
loyalties from the Congress to the Akali party: had a mere one 
per cent more voted for the Congress instead of the Akalis, the 
outcome would have been very different. What perhaps ac- 
counted for the change was that, while the Akalis were able to 
consolidate Sikh votes including the urban and scheduled caste, 
which in the past had gone to the Congress, the Congress was 
unable to win over all the Hindu votes which had usually gone 
to the BJP. 

Secular parties like the CPI, and the CPM were even unluckier 
that the Congress: though between them they were able to poll 
their usual nearly 6 per cent of the vote, they returned only one 
member to the State Assembly. A new phenomenon that sur- 
faced during this election was the Bahujan Sewak Samaj, 11 an 
organization of scheduled castes and backward classes which 
form 26.87 of Punjab's population. Their religious identity re- 
mained a matter of speculation as at different times and locali- 
ties they described themselves as Hindus or Sikhs as it suited 
them. The Samaj put up 50 candidates for the State Assembly. 
Though none were successful they polled a substantial number 

11 The Samaj was the political wing of the Dalit Soshit Samaj Samiti 
set up by Shiv Kanshi Nath on 6 December 1984. It has gained a 
considerable following among the lower castes in Punjab, Haryana, 
Himachal, Rajasthan and western Uttar Pradesh. 

Elections and the Accord 


of votes in the Doaba region and probably affected the fortunes 
of some of the candidates of the other parties. 

River Waters 

An issue that has bedeviled the relationship between the Punjab 
and its neighbouring states and come on top of the list of the 
Akali's grievances against the central government is the distri- 
bution of river waters. After India was partitioned in 1947, the 
governments of Pakistan and India approached the World Bank 
to adjudicate and assist them in utilizing the waters of the Indus 
Basin. On 29 January 1955 the Indian government submitted the 
requirements of the three states concerned on its side of the 
dividing line; Punjab (which then included Haryana and 
Himachal), Rajasthan, Jammu and Kashmir. In 1960 the Indus 
Waters Treaty was signed by the governments of Pakistan and 
India. By this treaty the waters of the three western rivers — the 
Indus, the Jhelum and the Chenab — went exclusively to Pakistan; 
those of the three eastern rivers — the Sutlej, the Beas and the 
Ravi — were given to India, for which India paid Pakistan Rs 110 
crores. When it came to allocating India's share between the 
states concerned, the Punjab government represented that the 
data presented to the World Bank had been hurriedly put 
together and did not represent the factual position. A committee 
of experts submitted fresh figures (February 1966), but its 
findings became academic as later that year Haryana and 
Himachal were made separate states. It was accepted as a 
principle that the assets of the joint Punjab would be divided in 
the ratio of 60 per cent to the Punjab and 40 per cent to Haryana. 
This was not acceptable to Haryana as the basis of the allocation 
of river waters. On the other hand, Punjab claimed that, being 
the only riparian state, it was entitled to take all it needed and 
part only with what remained as surplus to other states. This was 
untenable, as by the Indus Waters Treaty it was India, and not 
the Punjab, that was recognized as riparian of the three rivers; 
Rajasthan had, in any case, been taking the waters of the Sutlej 
long before the treaty. Several attempts were made between 


Politics of Partition 

1966 and 1975 to get Punjab and Haryana to agree to some 
formula of division. When they failed, the Central Government 
announced on 24 March 1976 that the available river water would 
be equally divided between Punjab and Haryana, with a little 
going to augment Delhi's drinking water requirements. Neither- 
state was happy with this decision. 

Ultimately, Mrs Gandhi, taking advantage of the emergency 
that she had imposed, gave an award more or less based on the 
decision taken by the government a yea r earlier. She claimed 
the right to adjudicate as the Punjab Reorganization Act of 1966 
empowered the central government to do so if the states failed 
to arrive at an agreement. Zail Singh, Chief Minister of Punjab, 
protested but was bluntly told to accept the award or resign. He 
chose to stay. 

The award required the laying of a 214 km long Sutlej-Yamuna 
link (SYL) canal, of which 122 km had to be dug in the Punjab 
and the remaining 92 km in Haryana. 

The scene changed as Mrs Gandhi and her party were swept 
out of power in the 1977 elections. In both the Punjab and 
Haryana the Janata party formed governments and their chief 
ministers accepted the 1976 award. The link canal was to be 
jointly inaugurated by Badal and Devi Lai. Badal accepted 
Rs 1 crore for the Punjab as an initial grant from Haryana. Then 
both Chief Ministers had second thoughts on the subject and 
submitted the dispute to the Supreme Court. 

Mrs Gandhi returned to power in 1980. She instructed the new 
chief ministers of the Punjab (Darbara Singh) and Haryana 
(Bhajan Lai) to withdraw their cases from the Supreme Court 
and on 31 December 1981 announced an award dividing the 
estimated total of 17.7 MAF as follows: 4.22 to the Punjab, 
3.5 MAF to Haryana, 8.6 MAF to Rajasthan, 0.65 MAF 
to Jammu and Kashmir and 0.20 MAF to Delhi. She then 
proceeded to inaugurate the SYL canal at Kapuri (Patiala 

The Akalis promptly retaliated by the Nahar Roko (stop the 
canal) agitation. It did not catch on. It did not lie in the mouths 
of the Akalis to raise objections against a settlement made by 

Elections and the Accord 


an Akali Janata chief minister. The issue was once again put in 
abeyance and later formed a pail of the accord signed between 
the President of the Akali Dal, Sant Longowal (who ironically 
enough had been dictator of the morca, including Nahar Roko) , 
and Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 24 July 1985. Under this 
accord "the farmers of Punjab, Haryana and Rajasthan will 
continue to get water not less than what they are using from the 
Ravi-Beas system as on the 1 July 1985. The claims of Punjab 
and Haryana regarding their remaining water will be referred 
for adjudication to a tribunal to be presided over by a Supreme 
Court judge. The decision of this tribunal will be rendered within 
six months and would be binding on both parties.' 12 

The distribution of river waters is likely to remain a subject 
of contention between the states. Neither the Punjab nor Haryana 
will get enough to meet the requirements of the multiple crop- 
ping pattern of agriculture they have embarked on. Paddy, cane 
and potato need large quantities of water at times when chemi- 
cal fertilizers are put in the soil. So far the farmers of both states 
have augmented their resources by boring tube-wells. But canal 
water is much cheaper than tube-w T ell water and the sub-soil 
water in both states has been steadily going down, adding to the 
farmer's expenses. 

Accord Unstuck 

On 27 September 1985 Barnala was sworn in as Chief Minister 
amidst much fanfare and hopes of lasting peace in the Punjab. 
His was the first Akali ministry not reliant on any other political 
party: with some justification he described it as a Panthic 
government. Ironically, it was ambitious elements within the 

12 See Appendix. 'Sant Longowal-Rajiv Gandhi's Accord'. In August 
1987, shortly before Haryana was to go to the polls, Justice Eradi of the 
Supreme Court submitted his report to the government. It was promptly 
accepted by the Union Ministry of Water Resources and as promptly 
rejected by both Punjab and Haryana. Amongst his other findings, the 
learned judge discovered additional sources of water, which no one before 
him was aware of. 


Politics of Partition 

Panth who conspired to pull him down. He was regarded as 
somewhat of an upstart. Badal and Tohra looked down on him 
as their creature and could not accept his ascendancy over 
them. Badal refused to join the ministry unless offered the post 
of Deputy Chief Minister. Barnala was reluctant to oblige as he 
knew full well that, as Badal had a large following of Akali MLAs 
and commanded greater prestige than he, it would not take him 
very long to reoccupy the Chief Minister's chair in which he had 
sat twice before. Barnala felt safer with Balwant Singh as his 
number two man. Balwant was not a Jat; he made a good Man 
Friday who could manipulate Akali politicians by bullying and 
briber)- and was primarily interested in feathering his own nest. 
Then there was Tohra in control of the SGPC but plainly 
ambitious to become Chief Minister. There was also a new- 
aspirant, the young Amarinder Singh, a Congressman turned 
Akali, who was a scion of the Patiala family. Cracks in the facade 
of Akali unity began to appear soon after the Akali government 
took office. 

The Longowal-Gandhi accord was based on the assumption 
that both parties would abide by its terms, deliver the goods, and 
stand firm against forces eager to see it unstuck. As it turned 
out, neither party showed much eagerness to fulfil its part of the 
contract and lost out to the accord breakers. The first blow was 
struck by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. He had given a solemn 
undertaking that Chandigarh would be transferred to the Punjab 
on Republic Day, 26 January 1986. It was not. The official excuse 
was that the Matthew Commission, despite two extensions of 
tenure, had not been able to complete the task of identifying 
villages that were to be given to Haryana in lieu of Chandigarh. 
The real reason was that Rajiv Gandhi had been lending an ear 
to Bhajan Lai, Chief Minister of Haryana, and come to the 
conclusion that if he gave Chandigarh to the Punjab he would lose 
the Hindu vote in the Haryana elections scheduled for the 
following year. Barnala, who should have made an issue of the 
breach of faith and tendered his resignation, accepted the Prime 
Minister's excuse and hung on to his Chief Ministership. Be- 
sides, his own government had been dragging its feet over 

Elections and the Accord 


digging its part of the SYL canal on which virtually no work had 
been done in the preceding months. Barnala also exposed 
himself to his critics as a puppet of the central government. 

As the moderates began squabbling among themselves, the 
extremists started extending their control over the community 
with renewed vigour. On the day Chandigarh was due to be 
transferred to the Punjab and was not, they ejected the SGPC 
from the management of the Golden Temple, hoisted Khalistani 
flags, and began the demolition of the Akal Takht under the 
guidance of a five-member Panthic committee. Thus, they out- 
manoeuvred Tohra who had hoped to rehabilitate himself with 
the masses through this kind of gimmickery. He agreed to a joint 
kar seva with the extremists. Though still President of the SGPC, 
he lost control of the Sikh's most important shrine. The Central 
Government was alarmed and decided to prepare itself for 
further eventualities. On 1 April 1986 it appointed Siddhartha 
Shankar Ray Governor of the Punjab; as Chief Minister of Bengal 
he had had experience in dealing with extremists. It was clear 
that the central government was losing faith in Barnala' s ability 
to handle them. 

The extremists pressed on their victory. On 29 April 1986 they 
passed a formal resolution proclaiming Khalistan 13 and again 
hoisting the flag of Khalistan in the Golden Temple. With the 
Prime Minister's approval, Governor Ray and his police chief, 
Julio Ribeiro, pressurized Barnala into taking action against this 
flagrant act of sedition. The following morning (30 April 1986) 
Barnala ordered the police to enter the Golden Temple to ap- 
prehend the secessionists. This gave Badal, Tohra and Amarinder 
Singh the opportunity they were waiting for. They denounced the 
entry of the police as a second Operation Blue Star and asked 
their followers in the Legislative Assembly to move a vote of no- 
confidence against the Barnala ministry. A sizeable number of 

13 The proclamation is reliably believed to have been instigated by Sikh 
organization based in Washington DC. Its secretary 7 general was Major 
General Jaswant Singh Bhullar who had made a timely escape from the 
Golden Temple just before the army launched Operation Blue Star. 


Politics of Partition 

ministers and MLAs deserted Barnala. But Barnala's deputy, 
Balwant Singh, was more than a match for the defectors. He 
bundled the remnants and had them taken to a rest house in 
Himachal where they could not be reached by leaders of the 
dissident faction. They were brought back to the Assembly just 
in time to cast their votes in favour of the government. Everyone 
of those who stayed loyal was rewarded with a ministerial post 
or the chairmanship of a public undertaking. The new ministry 
was sworn in on 6 May 1986. Now Barnala was in fact reduced 
to being a puppet of the central government, and dependent on 
the support of Congress MLAs to continue as Chief Minister. He 
suffered yet another setback in the SGPC elections. His nomi- 
nee, Kabul Singh, was defeated by Tohra who was re-elected 
President for the sixteenth time. The next day Tohra and Badal 
were arrested. 

The extremists entrenched in the Golden Temple decided 
that the time had come for them to finish off all the so-called 
moderates. In February 1987 they installed Darshan Singh Ragi, 
a very popular hymn singer, as the acting head priest of the Akal 
Takht and appointed their nominees as head priests of the 
takhts in the Punjab. The high priests, acting in the name of 
Panthic unity, called on the different Akali Dais to dissolve 
themselves. Barnala refused to dissolve his Longowal Akali Dal 
and was promptly declared a tankhaiya. He had lost all round: 
his colleagues let him dow T n, the Panth disowned him and the 
Prime Minister betrayed him. 

There is little doubt that the accord got unstuck largely be- 
cause of Rajiv Gandhi's failure to fulfil his part of it. He was 
unable to resist the pressures brought on him. First there was 
Buta Singh smarting under the insult of having been declared 
a tankhaiya in September 1984 and then excommunicated in 
April 1985. In May 1986 Rajiv Gandhi had appointed him Home 
Minister. Buta Singh had scores to settle with the Akalis and 
the high priests. Then there was Darbara Singh. His nominee 
for president of the Provincial Congress Committee, Santokh 
Singh Randhawa, was accused of having had links with the 
terrorists and forced to resign in June 1985. In his place the 

Elections and the Accord 


Prime Minister had appointed a totally non-descript windbag, a 
retired Major General, Rajinder Singh Sparrow, MP. The Punjab 
Congress party had ceased to count and Darbara Singh was 
anxious to take over command. And, finally, there was Bhajan 
Lai of Haryana who never ceased dinning into the Prime Minister's 
ear that every concession to the Sikhs or the Punjab would lose 
him Hindu votes in Haryana. Rajiv Gandhi lent an ear to this 
mischiefmonger and dismissed Barnala's Akali government on 
llMay 1987. A few months later his party got the worst drubbing 
it ever had in Haryana. He had lost Punjab and Haryana, as well 
as his image of being a clean politician. 

24. Foreign Connections and Khalistan 

Government spokesmen and the Indian media accuse for- 
eign agencies of trying to destabilize India by providing 
Sikh terrorists money, arms, training facilities, and shelter. The 
two most frequently named are the American CIA (occasionally 
alleged to operate through West German agents), and Pakistan. 
Although no hard evidence has so far been adduced to prove the 
involvement of any foreign government, the Government of India 
has confronted the Government of Pakistan with the testimony 
of captured Sikh terrorists which substantiate the existence in 
Pakistan of agencies which provide them sanctuary, indoctrinate 
and train new entrants, help them to purchase arms and smuggle 
them into India. Pakistan has consistently denied these charges. 
The only concrete evidence available so far of foreign involve- 
ment in terrorism and propogating the demand for Khalistan are 
the activities of individual Sikhs and Sikh organizations in 
England, Canada, and the United States. 

It is estimated that out of nearly 18 million Sikhs, almost 
two million live outside India. Of 3000 1 gurdwaras, nearly 500 
are situated outside India. There is hardly a country in the 
world without a few Sikh families with a place of worship and 
social gatherings of their own. Of these, the largest number are 
in Britain. 

1 N. S. Shergill, International Directory oj Gurdwaras and Sikh Organiza- 
tions, Southhall, UK (L. Vendee Brothers, 1985). 

Foreign Connections and Khalistan 


Till the end of World War II, Sikhs in the UK numbered only 
a few thousand. They had one central gurdwara in London's 
Shepherd's Bush and a few smaller ones in cities like Manches- 
ter and Birmingham. The community consisted of students, 
professionals and Bhatra pedlars. After Independence and 
the division of Punjab in 1947, a steady stream of Sikh emi- 
grants uprooted from Pakistan started flowing into England. 
They found ready employment in English-owned factories, then 
woefully short of semi-skilled hands. They were followed by 
Sikhs from Kenya, Uganda and the other countries of East 
Africa once ruled by the British. They were largely educated 
professionals, tradesmen or skilled artisans. The last group of 
Sikh migrants came after Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh 
violence following Mrs Gandhi's assassination in the autumn of 
1984. Though comparatively small in number, this last group 
were religious fundamentalists bitterly opposed to the Indian 
government. The Sikh community in England is now estimated 
to be nearly 300,000, and its 145 gurdwaras are mostly under 
the control of extremists. 

In an earlier chapter we have taken note of Sikh communities 
in Canada and the United States. Until World War II there were 
no mor e than about 10,000 Sikhs in these two countries. By 1985 
it was estimated that they numbered between 120,000 and 
200,000 in Canada and over 125,000 in the United States. There 
are 125 gurdwaras in Canada and about 90 in the United States. 
As in England, in these countries too they are largely under the 
control of extremists. 

Until 1984, the activities of foreign Sikh communities (except 
for the brief Canadian and American involvement in the Ghadr 
party) were confined to the affairs of gurdwaras in their locali- 
ties. After the storming of the Golden Temple by the Indian army 
their attitude underwent a complete transformation. The more 
orthodox and politically motivated new arrivals ousted the un- 
orthodox and usually clean-shaven Sikhs from control of the 
gurdwaras and turned them into forums of anti-Indian govern- 
ment propaganda. Large numbers of organizations came up to 
propagate Khalistan and help the terrorists in India. Camps 


Politics of Partition 

were set up and mercenaries hired to train them in guerilla 
warfare. Almost every terrorist organization in the Punjab had 
its counterpart in England, Canada, and the United States. They 
had their Babbar Khalsa, the Akhand Kirtani Jatha, the Khalsa 
Commando Force, the Khalsa Liberation Force, the Bhindranwale 
Tiger Force, the Dashmesh Regiments and the International 
Sikh Youth Federation. Collections were regularly made in 
gurdwaras, to be remitted to their parent bodies in India. 
Several acts of violence were committed in all three countries. 2 
After the anger over Operation Blue Star and the killing of 
Sikhs in November 1984 had somewhat abated, these organiza- 
tions split into many factions. The police and intelligence agents 
succeeded in infiltrating them and bringing their activities to an 

Most foreign Sikh organizations now exist only in names 
printed on their letterheads, with very small memberships and 
they are usually located in the homes of their founder-presidents. 
Of this kind are Ganga Singh Dhillon's Nankana Sahib Founda- 
tion and the Sikh Commonwealth Foundation; the Sikh Council 
of North America; the Sikh Foundation of USA, and the Inter- 
national Sikh Youth Federation. The only one of any consequence 

2 Besides organizing protest meetings outside Indian missions, there 
were instances of roughing up the personnel of Indian embassies and 
legations. Canadian Sikh terrorists succeeded in planting time bombs in 
Air India's Kanishka which went down into the sea off the Irish coast on 
23 June 1985 with all its 329 passengers and crew. Another bomb placed 
in another aircraft at the same time killed two off-loaders in Tokyo's Narita 
airport. A year later a conspiracy to blow up another Air India plane leaving 
New York on 31 May 1986 was unearthed at Montreal and two members 
of the Babbar Khalsa convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment. On 
25 May 1986 Punjab's Planning Minister. Malkeat Singh Sidhu, was shot 
and seriously injured near Vancouver. Four members of the International 
Sikh Youth Federation were convicted and given twenty-year sentences. On 
14 June 1986 seven members of the International Babbar Khalsa allegedly 
on their way to India to blowup the Indian Parliament were arrested in 
London. They were tried in Canada and acquitted for lack of evidence. 
Conspiracies were unearthed in the United States. These included plans 
to murder the Indian Prime Minister and the Chief Minister of Haryana, 
Bhajan Lai. 

Foreign Connections and Khalistan 


is the World Sikh Organization constituted on 27 July 1984 in New 
York. At one time it claimed a membership of 15,000 in Canada, 
1000 in the UK and 1000 in the United States. It survived 
largely because of the funds made available to it by a few rich 
Sikhs like Didar Singh Bains of Yuba City. At one time Major 
General (retired) Jaswant Singh Bhullar was its secretary gen- 
eral. After he was relieved of his post it ceased to be active. All 
that remains of the Khalistani organizations in North America 
is the International Sikh Organization with a membership of 
under 150. Gurmit Singh Aulakh, an eminent molecular biolo- 
gist, presides over it as well as over the Council of Khali stan. 
He remains about the only person of any calibre who maintains 
contacts with Senators and Congressmen and issues propa- 
ganda material mostly concerned with the violation of human 
rights in India. 

The movement for Khalistan remains a non-starter. It was 
launched in September 1971 by a press-statement issued in 
London by Dr Jagjit Singh Chauhan. A month later, an advertise- 
ment in the New York Times of 13 October 1971 announced the 
establishment of Khalistan. Nine years later (12 April 1980), 
Chauhan announced his election as president of the National 
Council of Khalistan with Balbir Singh Sandhu as its secretary 
general. He proceeded to name his cabinet ministers and 
appoint ambassadors to foreign countries. Till 1988 the only 
country to accede to his request to open an embassy was 
Ecuador. This did not deter his supporters in Canada from 
issuing Khalistani passports, currency and postage stamps, 
which have become collectors' items. 

The movement for Khalistan has failed to gain acceptance 
among Indian Sikhs. Apart from raffish bands of the AJSSF and 
clerics of the Damdami Taksal who periodically hoist Khalistan 
flags in the Golden Temple and shout slogans, it has no buyers. 
Even among foreign Sikhs the demand for Khalistan has sub- 
sided. A handful continue to make pro-Khalistani speeches, but 
a larger number have distanced themselves from them and 
resent the misuse of gurdwaras for political purposes. Satindra 
Singh, an eminent Sikh journalist who made an extensive study 


Politics of Partition 

of Sikh communities in foreign countries in late 1983, came to 
the conclusion that the most that Sikhs in England, Canada and 
the United States do now is to let off steam against the Indian 
government at their Sunday gatherings and are no more than 
weekend Khalistanis. 3 Remittances to terrorists in the Punjab 
have declined. 

Summing Up 

The five centuries of the history of the Sikhs may be divided into 
two: the first three hundred years are roughly divisible into three 
periods of one hundred years each; the second part into four 
periods of fifty years each. Guru Nanak proclaimed his mission 
around the year ad 1500. A little over a hundred years later (in 
1604) Guru Arjun completed the compilation of the sacred 
scripture, the Adi Granth, and gave the Sikhs a holy city of their 
own, Amritsar. These hundred years saw the evolution of Sikh 
religious philosophy. In the hundred years that followed, the 
Sikhs gradually turned from a quietist sect of Nanak Panthis 
(those who followed the path of Nanak) into a group animated 
by visions of power. The seal of approval was given by the 
establishment of the militant fraternity of the Khalsa by the last 
of the Sikh Gurus, Gobind Singh, in 1699. The century that 
followed witnessed Sikh ascendancy as a political power, with 
Banda Bairagi striking a near fatal blow to Mughal rule in the 
Punjab, followed by marauding bands of the Dal Khalsa spread- 
ing their arms from Attock to the Ganges. Its conquests were 
consolidated by Ranjit Singh when he captured Lahore in 1799 
and proclaimed himself Maharajah of the Punjab. 

Maharajah Ranjit Singh's forty years (1799-1839) remain the 
golden age of Sikh political achievement. With his death began 
the disintegration of the Sikhs as a political and social force. 
The two Anglo-Sikh wars ended in the defeat of Sikh armies and 
the annexation of their kingdom in 1849. Their social decline, 
though little noticed in the earlier stages, began at the same 

3 Indian Free Press Journal. 

Foreign Connections and Khalistan 


time. The kesadhari Khalsa were threatened with extinction as 
large numbers began to abandon the external forms (unshorn 
hair and beards) and became sahajdhari Sikhs. The Khalsa 
tradition was artificially kept alive by the British according 
kesadhari Sikhs economic and political privileges like prefer- 
ential recruitment in the army and the civil services, and later, 
separate electorates and the reservation of seats in the legis- 
latures. This induced the kesadhari Khalsa to distance them- 
selves from the sahajdharis as well as from Hindus who believed 
in Sikhism. There was a parallel decline in t he quality of Sikh 
political organizations, their leadership and their methods of 
approach. In the late nineteenth century, up to the end of World 
War I, it was the Chief Khalsa Diwan led by aristocrats like 
Sir Sunder Singh Majithia, Harbans Singh of Attari, and, on the 
outer periphery, men like Raja Sir Daljit Singh and Sir Jogindra 
Singh — all well educated, loyal to the British and believing in 
representations and constitutional methods. After the War, the 
Chief Khalsa Diwan retreated into the background and was 
replaced by the Akali Dal. The Akali Dal discovered that 
confrontation with the administration through non-violent non- 
cooperation and passive resistance was more productive of 
results than representations to the rulers or resolutions in 
legislatures. A new breed of leaders consisting largely of village 
jathedars came to the fore. However, in these early years of 
agitation, they accepted as their leaders educated men dedi- 
cated to their cause: such men were Baba Kharak Singh, 
Mehtab Singh and Master Tara Singh. They also left the task 
of political and constitutional negotiations to men of knowledge 
and experience like Ujjal Singh, Buta Singh and Sampuran 
Singh, who represented the community at the Round Table 
Conferences. Nearer the time of the transfer of power, there 
were shrewd politicians like Gyani Kartar Singh to negotiate on 
behalf of the Sikhs. At the same time, they benefitted from the 
more-than-willing guidance tendered to them by leaders of the 
Indian National Congress. This covered up for inexperienced 
mediocrities like Baldev Singh, who accepted Pandit Nehru as 
his mentor. 


Politics of Partition 

It was after Independence and partition of the Punjab that the 
quality of Sikh leadership was vulgarized and went into rapid 
decline. Able men like Swaran Singh, Pratap Singh Kairon and 
Zail Singh went out and joined the Congress party. The educa- 
tional and ethical standards of the emerging Akali leadership 
fell well below the level of their predecessors. Factionalism, 
switching parties to better prospects of getting ministerships 
or lucrative posts in state-controlled enterprises, became the 
chief motivating factors. Corruption became rampant in the 
gurdwaras. Misuse of gurdwara funds for political purposes and 
manipulating the enormous patronage of the SGPC over the 
appointments of head priests, granthis, ragis, sevadars, the 
personnel of thousands of educational institutions, hospitals and 
orphanages were used to consolidate personal political power. 
An example of the degradation in the quality of leadership of 
the SGPC was Gurcharan Singh Tohra, a leftist of very little 
education who succeeded in being re-elected president for 
sixteen successive terms and, at the same time, had two terms 
as a member of Parliament, which he rarely attended. In secular 
politics, it saw the emergence of men like Badal, Balwant Singh 
and Amarinder Singh, whose primary commitment was to 
themselves. Gentlemen-politicians like Barnala were sidelined. 
In due course, the clergy, consisting of head priests, ragis and 
granthis felt that they had been left out in the cold for too long 
and staked their claim to control gurdwara funds and have their 
voice heard in community politics. Thus, the elected SGPC 
yielded power to priests nominated by it. It saw the elevation 
of the hymn-singer Darshan Singh Ragi 4 to the post of acting 
Head Priest of the Akal Takht and, for a very short period, 
guiding the destinies of the Panth. In their turn, the clerics had 
power wrenched out of their hands by lads of the AISSF and 
nominees of the Damdami Taksal reared in the Bhindranwale 

4 Darshan Singh (b. 1936) in the village of Suranwala (District Sahiwal, 
now in Pakistan) is an Arora Sikh, He has a Master's degree in music. He 
is the most highly paid ragi and preacher. He came into politics after 
Operation Blue Star and was twice detained in prison for his fiery sermons 
denouncing the government. 

Foreign Connections and Khalistan 


school of terrorism. It is they who began to call the shots in more 
senses than one. 

The Sikhs' self-image bears little resemblance to reality. The 
spirit of one-npmanship which had helped them in becoming the 
most prosperous and go-ahead community of India was replaced 
by empty bombast. Devotion to religion gave way to a display of 
religiosity. Religious life declined into meaningless ritual and 
akhand paths through hired granthis; worship of the Granth, as 
if it were an idol, replaced its study as an hymnal of religious 
philosophy; and kirtans bv professional ragis demanding high 
fees like film playback singers proliferated. Ragis and granthis 
acquired vested interests in perpetuating these practices. De- 
spite claims of outlawing the caste system, discrimination 
against lower-caste Sikhs is only a shade less than amongst 
Hindus. The message of goodwill towards all mankind en- 
shrined in the Granth has been reduced to a litany to be chanted 
on ceremonial occasions; Guru Gobind Singh's exhortation to 
draw the sword only after all other means have failed to bring 
evil-doers to the right path is honoured more in breach than in 
observance. Few people dare to condemn gangsters who haul out 
innocent, unarmed people from buses and kill them, lob gre- 
nades in crowded market places and cinemas. The Hindu 
baiter, Bhindranwale, has become a martyred hero of lumpen 
sections of Sikh society. At times it appears that perhaps the 
Khalsa have run the course of history prescribed for them and 
that their Gums in their inscrutable wisdom have given them 
leaders who will fulfil their death-wish. 



Memories of the storming of the Golden Temple in June 1984 
and the massacre of over 5000 innocent Sikhs following 
the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi on 31 Octo- 
ber 1984 by her Sikh bodyguards, remain deeply etched in the 
minds of the people of northern India. There is, however, a deep 
divide in the way these events are perceived by the Sikhs and 
Punjabi Hindus. Those who justify the events harp on the hateful 
speeches against the Hindus delivered by Bhindranwale from 
the Temple precincts, the reign of terror let loose by his armed 
followers in Punjab and Haryana, veiled threats to set up an 
independent Sikh State and the hoisting of Khalistan flags on 
the Akai Takht. Those who condemn them harp on the wanton 
desecration of the most sacred of Sikh shrines entailing a heavy 
loss of lives and property, issuing a White Paper to whitewash 
its evil deeds, and the reluctance of successive governments to 
bring perpetrators of anti-Sikh pogroms to justice by the simple 
ruse of appointing one Commission of Enquiry after another as 
a result of which not one has yet been nailed for his misdeeds. 
As a result, incidence of crime, which had been high during 
Bhindranwale' s days of political and religious ascendancy, in- 
creased even further. Rajinder Kaur, daughter of Master Tara 
Singh, was murdered in a Punjab village and H. S. Manchanda 
of the Delhi Gurdwara Committee was shot dead in Delhi. Even 
while Sant Longowal was negotiating peace with Rajiv Gandhi 
(signed on 24 July 1985), an Air India plane, Kanishka, flying 



from Vancouver, Canada, to London, blew up off the Irish Coast 
on 23 June 1985, killing all its 329 passengers and crew. Two 
baggage handlers at Narita Airport, Tokyo, were killed as they 
were clearing baggage for a plane bound for India. In both cases 
the perpetrators of the crime were Sikh emigrants settled in 
Canada. The following month, Lalit Maken, MP and son-in-law 
of President Shankar Dayal Sharma, was shot dead in broad 
daylight in Delhi. On 20 August 1985 Sant Longowal was mur- 
dered while at prayer in a gurdwara in Sherpur, a village in the 
district of Sangrur. In the Punjab, violence spread to all the 
districts of the state and terrorists reoccupied the Akal Takht. 
S. S. Barnala, who was elected Chief Minister of the state fol- 
lowing the Rajiv Longowal accord, began to lose grip of the 
administration. The year 1986 began with widespread protests 
in Punjab and Haryana. The All India Sikh Students' Federation 
( AISSF) spearheaded the agitation for the transfer of Chandigarh 
to Punjab. Akali factions pitched in with rasta roko (block traffic) 
on highways. In Haryana, similar rasta roko agitations were 
started by the Opposition with the blessings of the state govern- 
ment. The best the Central Government could do was to appoint 
a one-man commission under K. M. Mathew to identify Hindi- 
speaking villages to be given to Haryana in lieu of Chandigarh 
going to Punjab. The two most disputed villages, Fazilka and 
Abohar, were largely Hindi-speaking but not contiguous to 
Haryana. In between lay the village of Kandukhera which was 
Punjabi-speaking and, in a poll conducted there, opted to stay 
in Punjab. That sealed the fate of Fazilka and Abohar as well. 

Meanwhile terrorists redoubled their activities. They made an 
abortive attempt on the life of Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi on 
2 October 1986 at Rajghat in Delhi. The next day Julio Ribeiro, 
DG Police, and his wife were shot at and wounded in Jalandhar. 
(A second attempt to kill Ribeiro in which he was seriously 
wounded was made when he was posted as Ambassador in 
Romania on 20 August 1991. In a deal to have Ribeiro' s assail- 
ants released, an official of the Romanian Embassy in Delhi was 
kidnapped and released after 23 days). Among those who fell 
to assassins' bullets were the veteran Akali leader Jiwan Singh 



Umranangal and the sons of two senior police officers, P. S. 
Kahlon and D. S. Mangat. Two other police officers, Arvinder 
Singh Brar and K. R. S. Gill, were shot dead during their morn- 
ing jog in Patiala's National Institute of Sports (NIS). In August 
1986, General (retd.) A. S. Vaidya, Chief of the Army Staff at 
the time of Operation Blue Star, was shot dead in Pune by two 
Sikh assailants. 

Far from condemning these outrages, prominent Akali Dal 
political leaders levelled charges against the police for elimi- 
nating or detaining a large number of young Sikhs on mere 
suspicion. The charges were not substantiated by most human 
rights organizations active in Punjab and abroad. The Barnala 
government took no notice of these charges and counter-charges. 

Barnala's worst critics were his rivals from the Akali party: 
Prakash Singh Badal, G. S. Tohra, and Amarinder Singh of 
Patiala who wanted the Chief Minister's post for themselves. 
Even his supporters in the Assembly who did not get ministerial 
posts became disgruntled. 

By 1987 President Zail Singh and Prime Minister Rajiv 
Gandhi were apparently not on speaking terms. Barnala was 
further isolated as the acting Jathedar of Akal Takht. Darshan 
Singh Ragi reportedly declared him tankhaiya for having sent 
the police into the Golden Temple. 1 Elections were due in 
Haryana. Chief Minister Bhajan Lai persuaded the Prime Min- 
ister that if any further concessions were made to Punjab, the 
Congress party would forfeit the Hindu vote in Haryana. Rajiv 
Gandhi succumbed and dismissed the Barnala government, 
keeping the Punjab Assembly in Suspended animation' and 
imposed President's Rule in May 1987. Nevertheless, the Con- 
gress party lost in Haryana! 

* * * 

The first month of the year 1988 will go down in the history of 
the Punjab as Black January. It started with the murder of two 

1 From the Tribune, 17 January 1999. 



senior Sikh police officers in Patiala by Sikh terrorists. Murders 
of both Hindus and Sikhs gathered pace. What made the 
situation worse was that no one in the Central Government nor 
any of the Akali leaders were sure about how to bring peace back 
to the state. 

In desperation the Prime Minister's * think tank 1 turned to 
Simranjit Singh Mann as a possible redeemer. According to 
unconfirmed reports, he was even offered the Chief Ministership 
of Punjab if he could restore normalcy to the state. Mann 
remained non-commital but was able to win over a large section 
of the Akalis to his side. 

Meanwhile the situation in and around the Golden Temple 
became more volatile with terrorists entrenched in the premises 
exchanging fire with the police stationed on the periphery. S. S. 
Virk, DIG Police, was shot and seriously wounded outside the 
temple. Rajiv Gandhi and his advisors were compelled to take 
decisive action. Fortunately for them they found two capable 
officers to do the job: K. P. S. Gill, DG Police, and Sarabjit 
Singh, the Deputy Commissioner of Amritsar. Plans were drawn 
up under the guidance of Governor S. S. Ray, P. Chidambaram, 
and Ribeiro to surround the temple, place marksmen at vantage 
points and cut off men inside from access to potable water. 
Operation Black Thunder, as it came to be known, took place 
between 13-18 May 1988. Men and women hiding in the Akal 
Takht were compelled to come out. Two who tried to get away 
were shot; one committed suicide by swallowing a cyanide cap- 
sule; the rest surrendered with their heads held high. As an 
operation, Black Thunder was a thundering success. 

To weed out the perennial problem of the regrouping of armed 
militants inside the Golden Temple, once and for all, the Central 
Government conceived of the ' Corridor Project* (popularly called 
Galiara) . It envisaged the creation of a 30 to 60 metre security 
belt around the Temple and involved compulsory acquisition and 
demolition of thousands of private properties. Hefty compensa- 
tion was paid and an ambitious rehabilitation and resettlement 
programme followed, but some landmarks of the old city like 
Mai Sewa Bazaar were lost for ever. Work on the project was 



indefinitely suspended soon after, when a Superintending Engi- 
neer connected with the project was shot dead in his office at 

However, the notion that Operation Black Thunder wiped out 
terrorists proved to be premature. Those killed in encounters 
with the police were promptly declared martyrs. Small shrines 
raised in their memory on sites of their cremation became 
places of worship. The government's attempt to forbid papers 
like Ajit from carrying obituary tributes and notices of Akhan 
Paths in memory of those who had fallen, were ignored. The 
peasantry still referred to terrorists affectionately as 'boys' or 
Kharakoos (hit men). They had no difficulty in getting more 
recruits to join them. Hindus in small numbers began to move 
out from villages under control of terrorists to settle in towns and 
cities where they felt safer. 

★ ★ ★ 

In the early hours of the cold, cloudy morning of 6 January 1989, 
Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh were hanged to death in Delhi's 
Tihar Jail. They had been convicted for the murder of Prime 
Minister Indira Gandhi five years ago. Though many eminent 
jurists and retired judges of the Supreme Court were of the 
opinion that the life of Kehar Singh, who had been accused of 
conspiracy to murder, should have been spared, it was not. 
More significant was the fact that while Mrs Gandhi's murder- 
ers had been sent to the gallows in five years, scores of men 
who had allegedly taken active part in the murders of thousands 
of innocent Sikhs across the country to avenge her murder, 
roamed about the country freely. (Many have remained unpun- 
ished till the writing of this Epilogue in 2004). As might have 
been expected, there was a savage backlash in the Punjab 
where ten innocent Hindu villagers were lynched by an irate 
mob. A railway station was set on fire. Sikhs went in hundreds 
of thousands to gurdwaras to pray for the peace of the souls of 
Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh who were declared martyrs. 



Terrorists found yet another excuse to step up their nefarious 
activities. They also found an ideal location from where they 
could operate and defy the police: a riverine track of 600 square 
miles lying along the banks of the Sutlej and Beas rivers covering 
parts of the districts of Ferozepur, Amritsar, Kapurthala, and 
Jalandhar, and at one point barely 10 miles from the border with 
Pakistan. Mand, as it was known, was wild, marshy land over- 
grown with pampas, elephant grass, and thorny scrub. When the 
rivers were in spate, large parts were flooded creating small 
islands accessible only by flat-bottomed boats. It had been a 
haven for wildfowl migrating across the snow-clad Hindukush 
and Himalayan ranges to breeding grounds in India and been 
converted to a bird sanctuary. It became the sanctuary of the two 
most dreaded gangster groups, the Khalistan Commando Force 
and the Babbar Khalsa International. Here they could live off 
the peasantry, extort money from them and take liberties with 
their womenfolk. By day they had the wild growth, sugarcane, 
and lentil fields to hide behind, at night they roamed free while 
the police locked themselves in the police stations. Of the two, 
the peasantry preferred to side with the gangsters who promised 
them protection for a price (dasxoandh or one tenth) rather than 
the police which periodically milched them but afforded no 
protection. In sheer desperation, the Punjab Police invited de- 
tectives from Scotland Yard for advice. 

The Central Government was at its wits' end and unable to 
formulate a clear Punjab policy. It set up a special cabinet sub- 
committee comprising Narasimha Rao (Foreign Minister), 
K. C. Pant (Defence Minister), Buta Singh (Home Minister), 
S. B. Chavan (Finance Minister), and P. Chidambaram (Min- 
ister of State) and sent it to Chandigarh to interact with Punjab 
leaders. All three factions of the Akali party and the Janata Dal 
refused to meet them. The BJP simply sent them a memoran- 
dum, S. S. Barnala described it as an 'eyewash'. Buta Singh, 
who was expected to play a leading role in the conference, kept 
a low profile perhaps because there had been several allega- 
tions of corruption against him and his family. 2 At the end of 

2 'Courtier Under Crossfire', India Today, 31 May 1989, pp. 28-34. 



their confabulations, the best they could do was to suggest that 
the Rajiv-Longowal Accord be reactivated as a base for future 
negotiations. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi who, 
when negotiating with Sant Longowal, had described the 
Anandpur Sahib Resolution as little more than a demand for 
more autonomy, denounced it in a speech delivered in Simla 
as 'separatist and a threat to the integrity of India'. 

The end of the year 1989 saw Rajiv Gandhi voted out of his 
Prime Ministership and replaced by V. P. Singh. Lok Sabha 
elections were also held in Punjab. The Akali Dal faction 
headed by Simranjit Singh Mann won the majority of seats. 
Governor S. S. Ray resigned the same December and was 
replaced by Nirmal Mukherjee of the ICS. Punjab was the new 
Prime Minister's top priority. Soon after his installation he 
visited the State, went to the Golden Temple and made an 
impassioned plea to let bygones be bygones and start a new 
chapter of peace and goodwill. His ride in an open jeep on the 
way back from the Golden Temple was seen both as bold and 

With the new Prime Minister came a new Governor. Nirmal 
Mukherjee was replaced by Virendra Verma, a relatively un- 
known politician and Member of the Rajya Sabha. In January 
V. P. Singh convened an all-parties conference in Ludhiana. 
Besides him, he had Atal Bihari Vajpayee, L. K. Advani, H. S. 
Surjit (CPI-M), and some Akali leaders. The Prime Minister 
repeated his plea to the Punjabis to 'give peace a chance'. There 
was much bonhomie among the participants. Simranjit Singh 
Mann received and saw off the Prime Minister at the airport. But 
it had no impact on the common people and even less on militant 
elements. One victim of their ire was Balwant Singh, who had 
played a significant role in signing the Rajiv-Longowal Accord, 
and was Finance Minister in Barnala's government. He was 
trying to persuade the Prime Minister to restore the suspended 
Punjab Assembly and revive democratic rule in the state. He was 
assassinated on 10 July 1990 in Chandigarh. 

Killing of innocent people continued. In December 1989, J. S. 
Khudian, whom Mann had helped elect to the Lok Sabha, 



disappeared from his village home the day after he had been 
sworn in. His body was recovered some days later from the 
Rajasthan feeder canal. Gobind Ram, a serving and controver- 
sial IPS officer was blown up by a bomb soon after his son had 
been murdered. Killings averaged 146 per month. The toll in 
1989 was 2729 and in 1990 it went up to 3506. It was estimated 
that there were 178 'hard core' and 4733 other terrorists active 
in the state. 3 President's Rule was extended for another six 
months because of continuing violence. 

Enter a new Prime Minister, Chandrashekhar, a new Gover- 
nor, retrd. General O. P. Malhotra. And yet there was no clear- 
cut policy for a Punjab rapidly sliding into chaos. The Prime 
Minister was eager to end President's Rule, hold elections, and 
restore democratic rule in the state. The Governor gave top 
priority to putting down lawlessness. He inducted the Army to 
seal the border with Pakistan (Operation Rakshak) to put an end 
to gun-running. Meanwhile, different groups of terrorists ruled 
the countryside with laws of their own making: no street lights 
after sunset, village dogs to be silenced by poison or shot. No 
one was to sing the national anthem Jana Gana Maria. No one 
was to speak Hindi, only Punjabi was allowed; girls were not to 
wear jeans or saris, only salwar kameez and cover their heads 
with dupattas; they were not to use cosmetics or any kind of 
make-up either. Kharakoos (hit men) were to be addressed as 
bhai (brother) or Sardar. Except for big cities, it was the 
terrorist-constituted panchayats whose writ was law for the 
countryside. They ignored Akali leaders as much as they ignored 
the central and the state governments. It was estimated that in 
the past ten years over 25,000 innocent people had lost their lives 
in terrorist-related violence, more than casualties suffered by 
the Indian Army in the 1965 and 1971 wars against Pakistan. 

By mid-summer 1991, the tide began to turn against the 
terrorists. The peasants had suffered extortion, murder, and 
rapes for too long. They welcomed Operation Rakshak and were 
eager to have at least a semblance of law and order restored. 

3 India Today, April 1990. 



They were unwilling to be ruled by gangs of dacoits masquerad- 
ing under high-sounding names. The Prime Minister went out of 
his way to appease the Sikh community. Every meeting he ad- 
dressed, he began with the greeting Wah Guru Ji ka Khalsa, 
Wahguruji kiFateh. He promised to restore democratic rule in the 
State. His call of elections was somewhat premature. The Con- 
gress decided to boycott them. By the first week of June 1991, 20 
candidates had fallen to terrorists' bullets. Election Commis- 
sioner T. N. Seshan postponed the Punjab poll. At the Centre 
Chandrashekhar was voted out of power and fresh elections 
called. K. P. S. Gill was brought back as head of the Punjab 
Police. No one had his hand on the pulse of the Jat peasantry as 
this Jat officer. 

Five years of President's Rule, deployment of the Armed 
Forces, and the police had little impact on the chaotic conditions 
in the state. During this election campaign Rajiv Gandhi was 
assassinated on 21 May 1991 in Sriperumbudur and Narasimha 
Rao elected as Prime Minister. He decided it was best to shift 
the onus of administration on elected representatives of the 
people. As an inducement, he offered an economic package deal 
to the Punjab, after the elections were over. The state govern- 
ment owed over Rs 4200 crore to the Central Government. Akali 
leaders were adamant: announce the package deal first, hold the 
elections thereafter, they demanded. Governor Surendra Nath 
supported their stand. However, once again it was Bhajan Lai, 
Chief Minister of Haryana, who reportedly put the spoke in the 
wheels: if you give Punjab economic relief, you will forfeit Hindu 
support in the state, he argued. The Prime Minister succumbed 
without spelling out the package deal and announced elections 
for 19 February 1992. 4 

Leaders of terrorist gangs proclaimed that they would kill 
candidates who put up their names, as well as people who went 
to the polling booths. The Akalis were caught in the arras of a 
nut cracker: all their major factions barring one decided to 

4 'Russian Roulette', India Today, 15 February 1992, pp. 23-5 and 
'Accelerating Alienation', India Today, 15 March 1992, p. 26. 



boycott the polls leaving the field wide open to the Congress, BJP, 
BSP, the two Communist parties and the Janata Dal. It was in 
fact a total give-way to the Congress in most constituencies 
barring the urban Hindu which supported the BJP. The turnout 
was abysmally low: in some constituencies as low as 1 per cent. 
The Congress party came to power with a bare 21.6 per cent of 
the vote. Beant Singh was elected Chief Minister. 

Akali leaders called foul and regrouped in the second seat 
of power in the state which was entirely Sikh, the SGPC. And 
once again threatened to bring the administration to a standstill 
by launching yet another morca. Their slogan was Sarkar hatao 
(remove the government), Punjab bachao (save Punjab), Mantri 
Gherao (immobolize the ministers). Before they could organize 
their morca, Beant Singh put their leaders behind bars. 

When terrorism raised its ugly head again, Beant Singh got 
JL P. S. Gill to deal with them. Operation Rakshak II was paying 
dividends. The Army combed the countryside for terrorists and 
their supporters. Terrorists were to be shot or captured. Villag- 
ers had to be won over. Instead of bullying them, as had been 
done in the past, the Army tried to befriend them. Wherever it 
went, it offered villagers food and medical assistance. The 
gambit paid off. Punjab peasantry had had more than its fill of 
lawlessness and began to help the police to hunt down gangsters 
and eliminate them. For some months it was the law of the jungle. 
Legal niceties were overlooked, some innocent people lost their 
lives, but by the end of 1993 a semblance of law and order was 
restored to the state. 

Beant Singh took the bold step of organizing the Gram 
Panchayat elections in January 1993. Most of his cabinet col- 
leagues were against this-militants would capture the Panchayats 
and declare Khalsa Panchayats, they argued. However, Beant 
Singh, who had himself been a Sarpanch and later Chairman of 
the Panchayat Samiti, knew the importance of these grass root 
democratic institutions, in his quest for earning legitimacy for 
his government and steering rural Punjab to normalcy. The 
turnout in these elections was over 90 per cent and Congress 
candidates won most of the seats. These elected representatives 



proved to be an impoitant link between the people and the local 
administration, including the police, in weeding out terrorism in 
the State. 

The Galiara remained a corridor of neglect, till K. B. S. 
Sidhu, a young Sikh officer with barely eight years of service in 
the IAS, revived it in 1992-3, soon after being appointed Deputy 
Commissioner, Amritsar. This invited open threats from the top 
militants. Apparently, however, a secret unwritten agreement 
was forged between the Punjab government, lead by Beant 
Singh, and the SGPC. The concept of the Galiara project was 
quietly changed from that of a security belt to a second prakarma 
around the Golden Temple. SGPC agreed to unofficially vet the 
architectural design, on the condition that no Congress minister 
or dignitary would come and formally inaugurate the project, or 
any phase thereof, and claim credit for its implementation. The 
government agreed and also picked up the entire tab for the 
project. The project has brought about beautiful landscaping 
and water features that mesh harmoniously with the serenity of 
the Holy Shrine. Three-fourths of the 'Corridor' was completed 
between 1992 and 1996, but the most significant portion, the 
front one, still remains incomplete. 

The SGPC, which came into existence in 1925, had always 
been a rival seat of power to the provincial government Since its 
inception it has been an Akali stronghold. It manages over 300 
historic gurdwaras in Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh as well 
as schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutions financed 
by it. 5 It has an annual budget of around Rs 142 crores: its Presi- 
dent enjoys enormous patronage in the appointment of granthis, 
raagis, sevadars as well as in the appointment of headmasters, 
principles and doctors in hospitals run by it. He also had the 
dominant role in the appointment of Jathedars to the Akal Takht. 
For over a quarter of a century, Gurcharan Singh Tohra had estab- 
lished an almost undisputed right to its Presidentship. He had 

5 The latest figures released by the SGPC secretariat show 40 major 
and many unnamed gurdwaras under its management, 17 colleges, 22 
schools, and four hospitals. 



an ambivalent attitude towards the demand for Khalistan and 
good reason to be scared of terrorists, having been shot at and 
wounded by one. 

The responsibility of conducting elections to the 185 member 
SGPC is vested in the provincial government. There had been 
no elections since 1984. By 1993, 47 members were dead. Beant 
Singh thought it was time to settle things once and for all by 
abolishing the SGPC. 'Times have changed', he said to the 
press, 'What is the need of the SGPC today? Like other religious 
groups, the Sikhs should manage their shrines with the help of 
local bodies'. 6 

The Chief Minister should have known that the one thing that 
would unite the ever-warring Akali factions was to meddle with 
the SGPC. And so they did. Tohra got the backing of Badal, 
Mann, and all the others. As ever in the past, their rallying cry 
was 'The Panth is in danger'. Sense prevailed and Beant Singh 
beat a hasty retreat. He turned his attention to getting rid of 
terrorism. He let Governor Surendra Nath and K. P. S. Gill, DG 
Police, do the job. Gill went about his task with demonic zeal. 
He was convinced that maintaining internal peace was the duty 
of the police and not the Army. He raised the strength of the 
Punjab Police from 35,000 to 60,000 men with sizeable infusion 
of Mazjiabi (scheduled caste) Sikhs. There was corresponding 
decrease in the strength of paramilitary forces from 400 to 260 
companies. He had the full support of Lt General B. K. N. 
Chibber, Corps Commander of Jalandhar and later Security 
Advisor and then Governor of the State. With the money made 
available to him, he sowed seeds of discord in terrorist gangs 
and won over informers. Since these gangs operated largely 
after sunset, he launched Operation Night Dominance. He 
carried out a night operation at Behla near Taran Taran. 
Amongst the casualties were two notorious gang leaders — G. S. 
Manochahal and Kauli who had allegedly beheaded M. L. 
Manchanda of All India Radio. The killing of the two men broke 
the back of terrorism in the state. At no time did these terrorists 

6 India Today, 15 March 1995. 



have either religious or political motives behind them. They had 
on the contrary, become luteyras (free booters) looking for quick 
money: many joined them for him (shaukiya taur pay). Gill had 
reason to congratulate himself for ably accomplishing the job 
entrusted to him. 

The Akalis redoubled their efforts to remove Beant Singh 
from the Chief Ministership. Earlier that year an Akal Takht — 
sponsored 'Khalsa March' — from Amritsar to Anandpur Sahib 
had received good response from villagers that lay en route. 
Encouraged by it, they announced another march from Amritsar 
to Delhi. Beant Singh scuttled the move by rearresting 19 top 
Akali leaders including Tohra, Badal, and Talwandi. The pro- 
posed march remained a non-starter. 

* ★ ★ 

It was strange that while the rest of the Punjab was in turmoil, 
its largest city Ludhiana was booming and had become the 
entrepreneur's paradise. It had been producing bicycles and 
woollen fabrics: it more than doubled its output of both and with 
it became a centre for producing sewing machines and ancilliary 
products as well. 

In the spring of 1994 an air of calm spread over the ripening 
wheat fields of the Punjab. There was an enormous turnout at the 
rural Olympics in Kila Raipur, a village some eleven kilometres 
from Ludhiana. For three days a carnival atmosphere prevailed 
as young men displayed feats of strength. Villagers played 
kabaddi and engaged in tugs of war against each other. A team 
came all the way from Vancouver, Canada, to participate in the 
games, to watch bull rights, ram fights, and the veterans race 
against each other. After many years, girls dared to join in the 
fun and games. There were no gold, silver or bronze medals for 
the winners but canisters of ghee (clarified butter) . Such sporting 
fairs were held all over the state but Grewal Jats of Kila Raipur 
had taken the lead in 1933 by organizing hockey and kabaddi 
matches and gradually added another 50 events to their annual 
rural Olympiad. 



The feeling of security was even more evident in the nearby 
city of Ludhiana. Rich industrialists moved freely without body- 
guards, workers came for night shifts without fear, cinemas were 
full for late night shows, more Contessa cars were seen on the 
roads, and hotel occupancy rose to over 90 per cent. The daily 
trading at the Ludhiana Stock Exchange grew fourfold from Rs 
7 crores to over 30 crores. Industrial houses outside Punjab 
began to set up plants in the state. What was true of Ludhiana 
was equally true of the second largest city, Amritsar. Punjab 
remained at the top of Indian states in terms of prosperity; its 
per capita income was the highest in India and it continued to 
be the country's top producer of wheat and paddy. 

★ ★ * 

In fighting terrorism the Punjab Police had committed violence 
against many innocent people. The five-man National Human 
Rights Commission visited the state (18 April 1994) to meet 
members of families of \ictims of police excesses. Both the 
government and Human Rights activists put their points of view 
before it. The Chairman of the Commission, Justice Misra, was 
quoted as saying, 'Even after the return of normalcy, the conduct 
of the police is still not normal'. 7 

On 29 November 1994 former President Giani Zail Singh who 
had earlier been Chief Minister of Punjab and Home Minister 
in the Central Government met with an accident near Raipur 
when he was returning from Anandpur Sahib to Chandigarh. 
His car had a head-on collision with a truck. He received 
serious injuries to which he succumbed later. Zail Singh was 
the son of a carpenter. Besides scriptural learning and Urdu, 
he had acquired a smattering of English. His persuasive tongue , 
earthy wit, and an uncanny ability to understand people helped 
him to rise to the highest position in the Republic. His death 
should have been a cause for national mourning. It was not. 

7 'More Wrongs Than Rights: The Human Rights Commission Pulls Up 
Punjab Police', India Today, 15 May 1994, p. 36. 



Despite having put Rajiv Gandhi on the Prime Minister's seat, 
he had failed to win his trust. Sikhs never forgave him for 
allowing the Army to storm the Golden Temple. His plea that 
he was kept in the dark about it did not cut ice since he later 
decorated many officers and men who had taken part in the 

He also failed to act decisively when rampaging mobs went 
for the lives and properties of Sikhs after Mrs Gandhi's assas- 
sination. His reluctance to resign and walk out of the Presiden- 
tial Palace robbed him of posthumous glory. 

★ ★ ★ 

Some of the inner secrets of how the Punjab Police was able to 
get the better of the terrorists came to light in February 1995. 
Some months earlier a small plane carrying Governor Surendra 
Nath and his family to their holiday destination had crashed 
killing all the occupants and crew. In the debris were found 
suitcases full of currency notes. It was known that he had been 
provided with large funds to disburse to informers and reward 
policemen who had terrorist scalps to their credit. But ugly 
rumours were afloat that he had apparently kept some of the 
money for himself. His official residence — Punjab Bhawan — 
was searched. Only a modest sum of cash (Rs 65,000) and 
jewellery was found. 8 

★ ★ ★ 

Jubilation at having done away with terrorism forever proved 
> somewhat premature. On 31 August 1995 Chief Minister Beant 
Singh was leaving the Punjab government secretariat in 
Chandigarh, when a suicide bomber blew himself, and the Chief 
Minister and over a dozen others with him. Nine men were 
arrested and put on trial. Two of the accused confessed to being 
a part of conspiracy to kill Beant Singh but till eight years after 

8 IA-05.htm 



the crime was committed the case had not been concluded. 
H. S. Brar of the Congress party took over as Chief Minister. 

A serious case of breach of human rights that came to light 
was of Jaswant Singh Khalra who had been collecting material 
on the secret disposal of bodies of some 2000 victims of police 
atrocities. He was picked up from his home in Amritsar on 6 
September 1995. His body was discovered some days later. 
Though his widow was granted a compensation of Rs 10 lakhs, 
men who committed the crime were never brought to book. 9 

★ * * 

After years of apparent reluctance to bring perpetrators of the 
massacre of Sikhs following Mrs Gandhi's assassination, a 
Delhi sessions judge issued warrants of arrest to the main 
accused including former Union Minister H. K. L. Bhagat, and 
remanded him to judicial custody. It did not amount to very 
much. Bhagat was soon out on bail as were the other accused 
named by unofficial commissions of inquiry. The name of the 
Congress remained as tainted as ever before. Some price for 
this had to be paid by Harcharan Singh Brar. Factionalism, 
which was as rife in the ranks of the Punjab Congress as it was 
amongst Akalis, became acute. Brar dropped many of Beant 
Singh's supporters from his 45-member Cabinet which earned 
him the hostility of those left out. Since elections were due in the 
state, Congress President Sitaram Kesri concluded that Brar 
lacked qualities of leadership and had Rajinder Kaur Bhattal 
elected Chief Minister in the hope that she would get the factions 
together to fight the elections. 10 She was the first woman ever 
to become Chief Minister of the state. 

Akalis were always best when in opposition. Badal managed 
to get together different factions (except Mann's) to fight the 
Congress. His great triumph was a sweeping victory for his and 

9 'The Case of the Missing Activist', India Today, 15 December 1995, 
p. 104. Also see 'Bitter Harvest', India Today, 16 June 1997, pp. 34-5. 

10 The Economic Times, 29 May 2004. 



Tohra's candidate in the SGPC elections. Tohra who had been 
President of the body for the last 22 years was once again elected 
to the post. 

★ * ★ 

The year 1996 brought a sad diminution in the image of K. P. S. 
Gill, DG Police, as the St George who slew the dragon of 
terrorism. In July 1988, at a private party in Chandigarh, Gill, 
a swashbuckling bon viveur, 'slapped' the bottom of a senior 
woman member of the IAS in a huff because she refused to talk 
to him. She lodged a criminal case against him for outraging 
her modesty. On 6 August 1996 a Chandigarh Magistrate sen- 
tenced Gill to three months rigorous imprisonment and two 
months simple imprisonment and a fine of Rs 700. He was let 
off on probation after promising 'good conduct'. Given his many 
achievements as a police officer, and being President of the 
Indian Hockey Federation and a man of letters, it is unfortunate 
that Gill was never able to totally live down this incident. 11 

★ * ★ 

With State elections scheduled to take place, Chief Minister 
Rajinder Kaur Bhattal announced a 50-point programme includ- 
ing free electricity to farmers owning seven acres or less of 
agricultural land. The Akali opposition led by Badal upped her 
gesture by offering free power to all farmers no matter how much 
land they owned. The electoral dice was heavily loaded against 
Bhattal and her party. Ex-Chief Minister H. S. Brar was allegedly 
unhappy and refused to contest. So did M. S. Bitta of the Youth 
Congress, giving Badal reason to gloat over the victory he 

Chief Election Commissioner M. S. Gill further upset Con- 
gress electoral prospects by announcing polls on 7 March, a 

11 'A Tight Spot', India Today, 31 August 1998, p. 53. 'Costly Miscon- 
duct', India Today, 31 August 1996, pp. 118-19. 



month earlier than expected. There was a frantic realignment 
of parties and a hunt for candidates likely to win. The Congress 
party failed to gain allies; even the two Communist parties 
refused to join the Congress-led secular front. The scheduled 
caste vote (approximately 28 per cent) which could have made 
a diff erence in the fortunes of the two main contesting parties 
was not available to either as their leader Kanshi Ram decided 
to go it alone. 

When it came to picking up candidates there was no differ- 
ence between the Congress and Akalis: relations and cronies 
came first, others later. Or as Punjabis put it, first comes bhai 
(brother) and jawai (son-in-law), others follow. It was alleged 
that Badal too gave preference to his relations as Balram Jakhar 
of the Congress had apparently done. He was careful enough to 
omit Amarinder Singh of Patiala who he felt may come up as 
a strong rival to challenge his leadership. 12 

Punjabis felt that the Akali-BJP combine had more to it to 
ensure communal harmony between Sikh and Hindus than the 
Congress Party's non-communal secularism. There was a 69 per 
cent turnout at the polls. The Akali-BJP combine swept the polls 
winning 93 of the 117 seats, the Congress came a poor second 
with 14, BSP 1, CPI 2, Akali Dal Mann 1, Independents 6. Badal 
was elected Chief Minister. 

Besides administering the state, Badal had to contend with 
what remained of the terrorist gangs as well as human rights 
activists who produced concrete evidence of police excesses 
while engaged in fighting them. Five militant groups were known 
to be still operating: Babbar Khalsa (Pakistan-based) with 53 
led by Wadhawa Singh; Khalistan Commando Force (Pakistan- 
based) with 48 led by Paramjit Singh Panjwari; Khalistan Lib- 
eration Front with 38 led by D. S. Lahara who had been extradited 
from the US and was in jail; Khalsa Commando Force with 8 led 
by W. S. Zaffarwal based in Switzerland, and Khalsa Liberation 
Front (Pakistan-based) with 12 led by P. S. Sekhon. That they 
were still capable of inflicting heavy damage was proved on 

12 'All in the Family', India Today, 15 February 1997, pp. 76-7. 



8 July when a train near Bhatinda was blown up leaving 38 dead 
and 61 injured. 

Meanwhile, human rights activists published a report entitled 
'Reduced to Ashes' accusing the police of murdering in cold 
blood almost 2000 suspected terrorists and sympathisers and 
cremating their bodies in Amritsar, Taran Taran and other 
places. More active among them was J. S. Khalra who was 
picked up from his home in Amritsar and murdered. Nine 
policemen including some decorated for bravery were arrested 
in this connection. One of them, Ajit Singh Sandhu, twice SSP 
Taran Taran, committed suicide by throwing himself in front of 
the Himalayan Queen. 13 

Badal made a positive gain in winning over Didar Singh Bains, 
wealthy peach-grower of California who had founded the World 
Sikh Organization in the aftermath of Operation Blue Star. 
Badal invited him over and took him around Punjab to see the 
actual state of affairs. 14 Today only US-based Gurmeet Singh 
Aulakh continues to raise the issue in the West. 15 

A sure sign that things had returned to normal was the visit 
of Queen Elizabeth II and her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh 
to the Golden Temple. The couple were given a warm welcome. 
At one time Sikhs, like other Indians, had been British subjects, 
now there was a sizeable community of Sikhs (estimated around 
400,000) who were British citizens and had their members in 
the British Parliament. 

Switching parties and ditching colleagues is commonly prac- 
tised by Indian politicians. Those in Punjab are no exception. 
Buta Singh, for instance, joined the BJP-dominated Central Gov- 
ernment as a Cabinet Minister. Having been ditched by Badal, 
Amarinder Singh switched over to the Congress. He made his 
entrance by the back door. 16 A non-governmental organization, 

13 'The Case of a Missing Activist', India Today, 15 December 1995, 
p. 104. Also see 'Bitter tearvest' India Today, 16 June 1997, pp. 34-5. 

14 'Punjab's Prodigal Son', India Today, 22 December 1997, p. 6. 

15 US Sikh leader backs Akal Takht edict, Indian Express, 24 January 

16 'Cultural Coup', India Today, 26 October 1998, pp. 76-7 



The Indian National Trust for Act and Cultural Heritage 
(INTACH) set up by the late Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 
1984 on the pattern of Britain's National Trust to conserve 
artistic, cultural, and environment heritage, had been presided 
over in succession by Rajiv Gandhi, Pupul Jayakar, and Bhaskar 
Ghose (retired DG AIR and DD and Secretary, Ministry of 
Information and Broadcasting) . It had a meagre budget of Rs 
5 crores and did little more than occasionally raise objections 
against encroachments of ancient monuments and having an- 
nual general meetings to re-elect office bearers. However, in its 
October meeting, Ghose, who expected to be re-elected Presi- 
dent, was in for a surprise. Amarinder Singh reportedly turned 
up with a body of 100 newly elected members from Punjab and 
had himself elected President. Ghose made a graceful exit with 
the caustic remark, Tf there is so much interest in culture and 
heritage in Punjab, it augurs well for the country'. 17 

A minor hullabaloo was created by Punjabis settled in Terai. 
It had been a jungle infested with wild animals and malarial 
swamps. At the invitation of the then Chief Minister of UP Pandit 
G. B. Pant, Punjabi and Bengali refugees from Pakistan were 
invited to reclaim the land and settle there. The Punjabi settlers, 
being proactive, soon converted the area into the richest agricul- 
tural region of the country with sugar mills and ancillary indus- 
tries. Their main town was named Udham Singh Nagar after the 
assassin of the perpetrator of the massacre of Jallianwala Bagh 
in 1919. When Uttaranchal was created in 1998, Udham Singh 
Nagar was made a part of the new state. There were loud protests 
from Punjabi fanners who in their zeal had encroached on lands 
of local adivasis and held land far more than the 18 acres allowed 
by the law. The Central Government took no notice of the agita- 
tion, Udham Singh Nagar remained a part of Uttaranchal and 
S. S. Barnala was appointed the state's first Governor. 

1999 was to be the tercentenary of the Khalsa Panth founded 
by Gum Gobind Singh on 13 April 1699. It was good enough 
reason to celebrate the occasion on a grand scale, to remind 

17 Ibid. 



generations of Sikhs of their heritage. Badal had earlier visited 
Israel and been much impressed by Yad Vashem, the memorial 
to the victims of the holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis against 
the Jews. Badal set up the Khalsa Heritage Memorial Committee 
in Anandpur Sahib, headed by the then Finance Minister, Cap- 
tain Kanwaljit Singh and invited Moshe Safdie, Boston-based 
Jewish architect of the Yad Vashem to design one for the Sikhs. 
He was to be assisted by a panel of Indian architects and Sikh 
intellectuals and historians including Dr J. S. Grewal, Kharag 
Singh, Dr Shaan, Brig. G. S. Grewal and others. Their brief was 
to design a memorial museum to be named Ajooba (Wonder). 
The centre piece decorating the building was to be a massive 
emblem, a two-edged dagger (Khanda), the Nishan-e-Khalsa 
(pride of the Sikhs). 18 The project was apparently estimated to 
cost between Rs 300 to 500 crores. The Punjab government 
promised Rs 160 crores. Prime Minister Vajpayee pitched in 
with another Rs 100 crores. 19 Didar Singh Bains paid Safdie his 
fee in US dollars. 20 A group of young IAS officers, including D. S. 
Jaspal, were initially put in charge of organizing the details of 
the celebrations and the full might of the state machinery was 
thrown behind the celebrations. By the autumn of 2003 the 
museum and several exhibition halls had been completed. The 
job of developing the complex with advanced special effects 
including lasers was assigned to NID Ahmedabad. 21 

The tercentenary celebrations of the founding of the Khalsa 
Panth were organized on a scale greater than any within living 
memory. From all over India and overseas, Sikhs came in hun- 
dreds of thousands on pilgrimage to Anandpur Sahib. Sikh 
scholars, jurists, artists, poets, painters, and athletes who had 
distinguished themselves in their respective fields were honoured 
with plaques of the Nishan-e-Khalsa. Sports like wrestling (a 
team came from Pakistan) , tent pegging, skeet shooting, tug of 

18 The Tribune, 11 October 1998. 

19 Khalsa Panth's budget of Rs 8 billion may have led to Akali discord,, 17 February 1999. 

20 'Complex Business', India Today, 16 November 1998, pp. 48-50. 

21 Ibid. 



war and much else went on while others flocked to local gui dwaras. 
It was evident, if any evidence was needed, that the Khalsa was 
as vibrant as ever since the day it was founded. 

★ * ★ 

The uneasy relationship between the Chief Minister and the 
President of the SGPC continued as before. Friction between the 
two came to a breaking point in the appointments of Jathedars 
of the takhts, mainly the Akal Takht from which hukumnamahs 
on religious matters were issued and men accused of breach of 
maryada (tradition) were summoned and punished. The influ- 
ence of extremist sections advocating Khalistan was always 
evident. Tohra had their support. Badal had the backing of more 
moderate elements and held the trump card. He had Jathedar 
Ranjit Singh dismissed and replaced him first by the head priest 
of the Golden Temple Mohan Singh, and on his reluctance to 
accept the post, another priest Giani Puran Singh, one time ally 
of Bhindranwale, as acting Jathedar. Badal took on Tohra, who 
had been elected President of the SGPC for the twenty-fifth time. 
On 16 March 1999 he took the unprecedented step of proposing 
the name of Bibijagir Kaur to replace Tohra. She was the first 
woman to become President of the SGPC. 

Jagir Kaur was a Lubana Sikh with a sizeable following in the 
subsect. Badal had her elected to the State Assembly and made 
her State Social Welfare Minister. She was never likely to pose 
a threat to BadaFs hegemony over Sikh affairs. However, not 
long after her election, Jagir Kaur's reputation was mired by her 
opposition to her daughter's marriage and subsequent death 
under mysterious circumstances. 22 The cremation was ques- 
tioned in the law courts by her son-in-law. She still stands 
accused of complicity in her daughter's death. 23 

★ ★ ★ 

22 'Blood Ties', India Today, 8 May 2000, p. 59. 

23 Ibid. 



Punjab, like most other Indian states, was living beyond its 
means. Against its income of Rs 8450 crores, it was spending 
Rs 10,282 crores every year. 24 'We are living on borrowed money', 
admitted Captain Kanwaljit Singh, the state's Finance Minister, 
at the time. Besides squandering large sums on organizing 
spectacles, government employees' emoluments were increased, 
state ministers got more perks, for example, a Tata Sumo for 
every member of the Vidhan Sabha, 500 litres of free diesel 
every month, and unlimited supply of petrol for every minister. 25 

★ ★ ★ 

A significant event was the success of the Royal Canadian Police 
in cracking the conspiracy to blow the Air India plane, up the 
Kanishka, which crashed off the Irish coast on 23 June 1985, killing 
329 passengers and crew and a blast in Tokyo's Narita Airpot 
killing two porters handling Air India baggage. The Canadian 
police arrested Ripudaman Singh Malik and Ajaib Singh Bogra 
in Vancouver. Of the other suspects, Talwinder Singh Parmar 
who had masterminded the conspiracy, was killed in an encounter 
with the Punjab police in 1992. Surjan Singh simply disappeared; 
Inderjit Singh who placed the bomb which exploded in Narita, 
was undergoing a sentence of 10 years imprisonment. 

From the evidence produced in court, it appeared that the 
conspiracy was hatched in Amritsar by members of the Babbar 
Khalsa to avenge Operation Blue Star as close to its first 
anniversary as possible. The arrest and interrogation of one Lai 
Singh in Bombay in 1992 gave the Canadian investigators their 
first lead. 26 One of the key witnesses was Tara Singh Hayer, 
Editor of the Vancouver based India Canadian Times, and strongly 
opposed to Khalistan. He was murdered in 1998. 

★ * * 

24 See 'We are Broke', India Today, 14 February 2000, pp. 36-8. 

25 Ibid. 

26 The Tribune, 8 November 2000. 



The Badal government's penchant for organizing spectacles 
continued. Maharajah Ranjit Singh's coronation anniversary was 
yet another occasion for celebrations on a national scale. A son 
et lumiere programme was inaugurated in Amritsar to highlight 
achievements of the Maharajah. An international conference 
was organized in Delhi. The chief guest was Prime Minister 
Vajpayee. Several of his cabinet ministers were present. A scion 
of the Fakir family who had served as the Maharajah's ministers 
and governors came from Lahore, as well as a Frenchman whose 
ancestor had served in the Maharajah's army. As conferences 
go, this one was as much of a success as any other and got a 
great deal of coverage. 

While Badal was preoccupied with organizing spectacles and 
conferences, his adversaries in the Punjab were busy preparing 
for state elections scheduled in early 2002. Public opinion polls 
indicated that the Akali-BJP government was heading for a 
defeat. Psephologists predicted a clean sweep for the Congress 
party led by Amarinder Singh and Rajinder Kaur Bhattal. The 
results belied their forecasts. The Congress won by a slim 
majority of five seats winning only 62 seats of the 117 member 
legislature, with its ally CPI getting one. Badal' s Shiromani Akali 
Dal retained 41 . The main loser was the BJP which lost 20 of the 
23 seats it contested. Urban Hindus voted for the Congress, as 
did the Dalits. Bhattal staked her claim to be re-elected Chief 
Minister. Sonia Gandhi, President of the Congress, preferred 
Amarinder Singh. Next she tried to be elected President of the 
state Congress party. Amarinder Singh, however, preferred to 
have ex-MP H. S. Hanspal. Bhattal gave in and accepted a 

Although the State's finances were in poor shape, Amarinder 
Singh gave priority to settling old scores with Badal: armed with 
a broom he announced he would sweep corruption out of the 
state. 27 Before he could lay his hands on Badal and his kin, he 
got an unexpected bonus in the way of disclosures made by the 
police of the corrupt practices alledgedly indulged in for over 

27 Sweepstake, The Politics of Corruption', India Today, May 2002. 



six years by Ravinder Pal Singh Sidhu, Chairman of the Punjab 
Public Service Commission (PPSC) . Sidhu had been a journalist 
with the Indian Express, the Tribune, and the Hindu, It was re- 
ported that Sidhu got down to converting the PPSC into a money- 
minting machine, drawing up a schedule of rates of payment to 
be made in cash for selection to all the Provincial Services. 28 
Going for Badal and his family proved less rewarding. Their 
homes were searched by the police. Measurements of their 
holdings were taken. Amarinder Singh accused his adversary 
with having extensive property in India and abroad under differ- 
ent names to which Badal responded by filing defamations suits 
against Amarinder Singh. Throughout September 2003, 
Amarinder Singh and Badal had slanging matches accusing 
each other of grabbing land and real estate and stashing away 
money in foreign banks. 29 Both made laughing stock of them- 
selves and were lampooned in a charade enacted in public by 
the Punjabi humorist Jaspal Bhatti in Chandigarh. 30 

★ ★ ★ 

The deaths of 102-year old Mohan Singh Oberoi and Raunaq 
Singh (September 2002) was a reminder of the spirit of 
enterprise that most Punjabis, Hindus and Sikhs, had in 
overcoming heavy odds. Mohan Singh had been a clerk in a 
small hotel in Simla owned by an Englishman who wanted to sell 
it and return to England. Mohan Singh persuaded him to sell 
the hotel to him. He went on to buy and build the most extensive 
chain of hotels in different states of India and abroad. Raunaq 
Singh had come from Lahore leaving the little he owned as a 
penniless refugee. He opened a shop selling steel pipes in 
Delhi's Chandni Chowk. He went on to manufacture Hume Pipes 
and then set up Apollo Tyres to meet rising demands of Indian 
automobile manufacturers. When Sanjay Gandhi launched the 

28 Job Mobster', India Today, 6 May 2002, pp. 24-6. 

29 The Indian Express, 30 September 2003. 

30 The Tribune, 27 September 2003. 



Maruti car project, Raunaq Singh became the first Chairman 
of the company. Mohan Singh and Raunaq Singh left running 
enterprises with many billions of rupees. A more spectacular 
success was Bhai Mohan Singh's Ranbaxy founded in 1962. It 
is today the top pharmaceutical company in India with net 
annual global sales of 764 million US dollars and is currently 
managed by D. S. Brar. There were other Sikhs who made it into 
the top echelons of industry: the Sahnis of Bombay and 
Aurangabad, Charanjit Singh of erstwhile Coca Cola, Campa 
Cola and other soft drinks as well as hotel Le Meridien in New 
Delhi which after his death is managed by his wife Harjeet Kaur. 

Summing Up 

A balance sheet of the community's achievements and failures 
over the last twenty-five years does not read too badly. According 
to the census report of 2001, Punjab's population of 2.43 crores 
was increasing annually by 1.82 per cent. Of this over 60 per cent 
are Sikhs largely living in rural areas. Eighty per cent of Sikhs 
live in Punjab, around 19 per cent in other parts of India and 1 
oer cent have settled abroad. Though Punjab has slipped from 
ts top position as the most prosperous state to the third after 
Delhi and Goa, its per capita income is Rs 15,255 (as given on 
:>age 47 of Economic Survey of Punjab) , Sikhs remain the most 
prosperous major community of the country. While 26.10 per cent 
Indians live below the poverty line, the figure for Punjab is 6.16 
per cent. In a country in which begging is rampant, one rarely, 
if ever, sees a Sikh stretch out his hands for alms. 

Sikhs are often mocked by their detractors that the only 
culture they know is agriculture. This is far from the truth, as 
many have made their names as artists, dancers, musicians, 
film makers, and pop singers. Manjit Bawa, Arpita Singh, and 
Arpana Caur are among the best known Indian painters; Navtej 
Johar, a Bharatanatyam dancer, Singh Bandhus as classical 
singers, Dharmendra and Dara Singh as filmstars. Among film 
directors there is Kenyan born Gurinder Chadha whose Bhaji on 
the Beach and Bend it Like Beckham were box office successes in 



England and India. Punjab's folk music and dance (bhangra) 
have had a new lease of life with the emergence of singer- 
dancers like Gurdas Mann, Daler Mehndi, Malkit Singh, and 
others. They draw a huge audience wherever they perform at 
home and abroad. 

Social evils persist. Among the worst is female foeticide 
resulting in there being 874 females to every 1000 males. So 
does caste discrimination. Despite claims made by Sikhs that 
they are a casteless fraternity, lower caste Sikhs living in villages 
have their own gurdwaras. Three divisions based on caste 
persist, namely Jats, non-Jats comprising Brahmins, Khatriyas 
and Vaishyas, and Mazhabis. Inter-caste marriages between the 
three are frowned upon. 

A noticeable change with portents for the future is the large 
scale influx of farm workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. They 
come as labourers at harvest times but most stay in Punjab, 
make their homes, enroll as voters, and get ration cards. Sons 
of Sikh farmers avoid manual labour and try to emigrate to 
Europe, Canada, and the United States or any other foreign 
country to which they can get visas and work permits. If this 
continues, it may have far-reaching consequences in the commu- 
nal equation in the state. 

Relations between Hindus and Sikhs which had become 
acrimonious after Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh violence 
in November 1984 have gradually but surely become more 
harmonious. Though relations may not return to the ideal of 
naunh-mass (as a nail and the flesh out of which it grows), it can 
be said that they live in peace but separately. 

★ ★ * 

Sikhs settled abroad have much to be proud of. In Canada they 
started as lumbermen, factory workers, and cab drivers. Now 
they are farmers, professionals, and entrepreneurs and make 
their presence felt in the political life of the country. After Ujjal 
Dosanjh who became Prime Minister of British Columbia 
(2000-1), Gulzar Cheema became a Minister of the Provincial 



government and Herb Dhaliwal a Minister in the Federal gov- 
ernment. Raminder Singh Gill is a Parliamentary Assistant of 
the Prime Minister. In the United States, besides Didar Singh 
Bains the 'Peach King', there is H. S. Samra specializing in 
growing Indian vegetables like okra karela. Dr N. S. Kapani, 
father of fibre optics, who was the main spirit in organizing 
exhibitions of Sikh relics in London, San Francisco, and Washing- 
ton, is among the top patent holders of fibreglass products. Sant 
Singh Chhatwal has a chain of restaurants and hotels across the 
country and was one of the main fund raisers for President Bill 
Clinton's election campaign. Nanak Kohli, a wealthy business- 
man of Washington DC has set up a charitable trust of Rs 25 
crores to boost primary education in India. In England there are 
Sikh members of Parliament both in the House of Commons and 
the House of Lords. Reuben Singh is the youngest man to 
become a millionaire. There are Sikh judges and mayors of 
burroughs. The community's success story is repeated in East 
Africa and Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. It could be 
said that though the Sikhs have lost much of their past glory, the 
spirit of enterprise and one-upmanship survives. Perhaps what 
animates them is the unperishable belief that one must never 
give up but remain ever in bouyant spirits — Charhdi Kalaa. 

General elections, called some months before they were due, 
took place in April 2004. Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpeyee 
and his Deputy L. K. Advani expected to return to power with an 
increased majority and mounted a massive campaign based 
largely on 'Feel Good' and Tndia Shining' because of the progress 
made in the country during their rule. They were in for a rude 
shock. As results started coming in the month following, Hindu 
right wing parties led by the Bharatiya Janta Party (BJP) suffered 
an ignominious defeat at the hands of the Congress party led by 
Mrs Sonia Gandhi. The desperation the BJP launched a virulent 
campaign asking the country not to accept a foreign-born woman 
as Prime Minister. Once again Mrs Sonia Gandhi outwitted them 
by announcing the name of Dr Manmohan Singh as the Congress 
party's nominee for the post of Prime Minister. The opposition 
was silenced. 



It would appear that there was tacit understanding that while 
Mrs Gandhi as President of the Congress party would remain in 
control of political matters, Dr Manmohan Singh would get a free 
hand to put the country's economy on the right track. Dr Manmohan 
Singh recalled Montek Singh Ahluwalia who had been Secretary 
of Finance when he was Finance Minister, and appointed him 
Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. Thus the year 
2004 saw two Sikhs at the helm of the country's affairs — a 
notional fulfilment of the prophecy RajKarega Khalsa — The Khalsa 
Shall Rule. 


1. K.S. Brar, Major General (retd.), The True Story (UBS, 

2. KP.S. Gill, The Knights of Falsehood (Har Anand, 1997). 

3. Sarabjit Singh, Operation Black Thunder: An Eye-witness 
Account of Terror in Punjab (Sage, 2002). 

4. Gopal Singh, Punjab Today (Intellectual Publishing House, 

5. Virender Grover (ed.) , The Story of Punjab Yesterday & Today, 
2 Vols (Deep & Deep Publications, 1995). 

6. Mohinder Singh, Punjab 2000: Political and Socio-Economic 
Development (Anamica Publications, 2000). 

7. Reduced to Ashes: The Insurgency 6f Human Rights in Punjab 
(South Asia Forum for Human Rights, 2003). 

8. Gurmukh Singh, The Rise of the Sikhs Abroad (Roli, 2003). 

9. Surjit Kaur, Among the Sikhs (Roli, 2003). 

10. Chamen Lai Jhamb, Chief Ministers of Punjab Since Indepen- 
dence (Arun Publishing House). 

11. Julio Ribeiro, Bullet for Bullet (Viking). 

12. Danewalia Bhagwan Singh, Police and Politics in 20th Cen- 
tury Punjab (Ajanta). 



Appendix 1 
Cultural Heritage of the Sikhs 

Punjabi Language, Literature, and Painting 


There are conflicting views on the origin of the Punjabi language. 
We are not sure what language the people of the region spoke 
before the Aryan invasions. Whatever it was, it soon came under the 
linguistic domination of Sanskrit. Thereafter the Sanskrit of the Aryans 
mingled with the languages spoken by the J at tribes which had migrated 
from Rajasthan into the Punjab. The melange produced a variety of 
regional dialects like Hindko, Multani, Pothohari, Majhi, Malwai, 
Puadhi, Doabi, Dogri and Pahari. 

The Punjabi of the eleventh century was then subjected to many other 
linguistic influences. The Muslim invaders brought Arabic, Persian, and 
Turkish. The British introduced English. The languages of the conquer- 
ors enriched the vocabulary of Punjabi without altering its basic 
structure. Since the Muslim invaders settled in the Punjab, words of 
Arabic, Persian, and Turkish found their way into the diction of the 
peasants. This did not apply to the same extent to English, which was 
restricted to matters of administration and technology and was used 
only by the educated classes. 

Gurmukhi Saipt 

Scholars still dispute the origin of the Gurmukhi script. The popular 
belief is thai it was invented by the second guru, Angad. This is, 
however, disproved by the fact that Guru Nanak used the thirty-five 


Appendix 1 

letters in composing his acrostic. From this some scholars have 
concluded that Nanak was the creator of Gurmukhi letters. Recently, 
documents written before the time of Nanak have been found which 
conclusively prove that the thirty-five letters of the alphabet (known also 
as the Paintir35) now called Gurmukhi were current a long time before 
the Gurus. Pritam Singh, whose authority is generally accepted, is of 
the opinion that Gurmukhi, like many other scripts in use in northern 
India, was derived from Brahmi letters which were in use at the time 
of Emperor Asoka (3rd century BC), but no precise dates can be fixed 
about its evolution. 


Punjabi scholars (like the scholars of other languages) vie with each 
other in pushing back the antiquity of their literature. But there is little 
real evidence of Punjabi writing before the settlement of the Muslims 
in the Punjab and the incorporation of their language in the local 
dialects. The earliest examples of the use of what may be described 
as Punjabi poetry were heroic ballads (yars) which were composed 
during the Muslim invasions. These heroic ballads were sung to specific 
tunes, many of which find mention in the compositions of Guru Nanak, 
for example, 

Rai Kamal dl var, 

Tundey asraje ki var y etc. 

The Sufis 

Of the many Sufi orders in India, three flourished in the Punjab and 
produced a crop of poets: the Chishtiya had Farid Shakarganj (12th 
century), the Qalandari, Shah Husain (16th century) and the Qadiri, 
Bulleh Shah, who was a contemporary of Guru Gobind Singh. 

Farid Shakarganj is the first great name in Punjabi literature. He 
made his home in Pak Pattan, where his successors (who also took 
on the name Farid) continued to reside, write religious verse, and 
propagate Sufi doctrines. It is not possible to say with certainty which 
of the many Farids was the author of a particular line of a verse; 112 
slokas ascribed to Farid are incorporated in the Granth (see Vol. 1, 
Appendix 5, pp. 319-21). 

Farid's chief preoccupation was with death. He described himself 
'lying on the bed of care on the mattress of sorrow under the quilt of 

Appendix 1 


loneliness'; a strain of melancholy is consequently present in much of 
his writing. In the tradition of the Sufis and the Bhaktas, Farid wrote 
of a man's search for God in the same terms as a woman's physical 
longing for her lover. This tradition was continued by the Sikh gurus. 

Shah Husain of Lahore was given to drinking, music, dancing, and 
pederasty. His eccentric ways as well as his verses were on people's 
lips. Nothing of his writings remains except some hafts in mystic strain 
which were recorded later. The strains of melancholy and abandon run 
through most of the compositions ascribed to him. 'To whom can I 
narrate the pain I suffer being separated from the Beloved? The anguish 
has crazed my mind and my thinking. I have wandered from forest to 
jungle looking for Him. Yet I have not found Him. The fire smoulders: 
I search its embers and, through the black smoke, see my Beloved. 
Sayeth the Faqir Husain, "Lord! behold the fate of those stricken with 

Bulleh Shah (1680-1758), born in a village near Kasur, remains the 
most quoted and sung sufi poet of the Punjab. He became a disciple 
of Inayat Shah of the Qadiri order, abandoned the mosque for the Sufi 
haspice to sing songs of love. 'The first rung on love's ladder is the 
limbo between life and death,' he wrote, 'when pilgrims turn to Mecca, 
I regard the face of my Beloved;' 

In another verse he writes: 'The law says go to the Mulla to learn 
rules and regulations. Love says: one word is enough, put away your 
books of law. Law says: go and bathe five times and worship alone in 
the temple. Love replies: Your worship is false if you consider yourself 
separate from your Beloved.' 

The sufis lived in villages and their vocabulary was refreshingly 
rustic. The day-to-day activities of peasants, artisans and their wom- 
enfolk, the complicated emotional relationships between the various 
members of joint families — a sister's love for her brother, the tension 
between co-wives, the tyranny of a mother-in-law, etc. — gave them the 
similes and metaphors they needed. The Sikh Gurus, particularly 
Nanak, made use of these familiar pastimes and situations to convey 
their message. 

Another notable contribution of the sufis was the popularization of 
certain forms of verse which became distinctive of Punjabi literature, 
for example, the kdfi, bara-mah, and the siharfi. Kafi (a verse of four lines 
in which the first, second and the fourth are in rhyme) was well known 
to Persian poets and is popular today in Urdu verse. The bara-mah, or 
the twelve months, gave poets fvill liberty to describe the beauty of the 


Appendix 1 

seasons and with that convey their message. Some of the richest 
descriptions of nature in Punjabi poetry owe their origin to the practice 
of composing bara-mah. That of Guru Nanak in the Adi Granth is 
probably the most beautiful of all in the language. The siharfi, or the 
acrostic, takes a letter of the alphabet as its cue. This acrostic was used 
by the Sikh Gurus but was abandoned soon after them and never 

Another notable contribution to Punjabi literature made by Muslim 
writers were kissas, love epics told in verse and sung in every hamlet. 
The most famous of these were HeerRanjha by Warris Shah (1735-98) , 
Sassi-Punnoo, Sohni Mahiwdl and Mirza-Sahibdn. These tragic love sto- 
ries became the basis of Punjabi fiction. 

The Sikh Gums 

Most of the Sikh Gurus were given to versification. The three whose works 
are most widely read as literature are Nanak, Arjun, and Gobind Singh. 

Guru Nanak preached through his poetry, and his works have a 
didacticism explaining his philosophy of life and exhorting others to 
a particular way of living. Most didactic poetry suffers from a cramping 
narrowness imposed by the purpose for which it is written, but Guru 
Nanak 's poetry displays a remarkable freedom of expression. The 
beauty of pastoral Punjab aroused him to religious and poetic frenzy. 
The commonplace was for him pregnant with symbolism of moral 

Guru Arjun expresses the same deep sentiments in his poetry as Guru 
Nanak. His verse abounds with jewelled phrases and has a haunting 
melody produced by the use of alliteration and repetition of words. Guru 
Arjun is undoubtedly the most sung of all poets of the language. 

Guru Gobind Singh was perhaps the most erudite of the Sikh Gurus 
and was familiar with both Hindu mythology and Islamic theology. He 
wrote in Braj, Sanskrit, Persian, and Punjabi. Unlike his predecessors, 
he did not restrict himself to expressing the glory of God; his writings 
have a moral as well as political significance. The martial spirit which 
he infused among his followers is expressed in the vigorous poetry of 
his famous Zafarnama — Epistle of Victory — addressed to Emperor 
Aurang-zeb. His Jap Sahib is to this day a source of inspiration to his 

Notice should also be taken of janam-sakhls (life-stories) of the 
Gurus. We have referred to them in Volume 1 as of doubtful historical 

Appendix 1 


value as they were written a long time after the death of Guru Nanak 
and contradict each other in material points. They are, however, the 
earliest examples of Punjabi prose available to us. 

Contemporary Punjabi Writing 

The starting point of contemporary Punjabi writing is Shah 
Mohammed (1784—1862) who, after Guru Nanak, was the first to write 
about events of his time. He witnessed the chaos that followed the death 
of Maharajah Ranjit Singh ending in the Anglo-Sikh wars and the 
annexation of the Sikh kingdom by the British. He immortalized the 
heroic but suicidal charge led by Sham Singh Attariwala in the battle 
of Sabraon. They squeezed the blood of Whites as one squeezes juice 
out of a lemon,' he wrote. Tf only Ranjit Singh were there he would have 
been proud to see how his Khalsa wielded their swords/ He explained 
the outcome of the war in words which people still quote to this day: 

O Shah Mohammad, without Ranjit, such was our plight 
We won our battles, but lost the fight. 

For nearly half a century following the commencement of British 
occupation, little literature was produced in India. It took many years 
to recover from the effects of the political change and to size up western 
values. Early English rulers were convinced that all oriental culture was 
worthless and that the best thing the Indians could do was to adopt 
the European. One generation of Indians agreed with this opinion 
and anglicized themselves to the extent that they lost contact with 
Indian tradition and learning. The next generation discovered the folly 
and proceeded to blow away the dust of the archives housing the 
achievements of ancient India. This process took place all over the 
country. Since the Punjab was the last to be subjected to western 
complexes, it was the last to shake off their effect. The renaissance 
in Punjabi writing was consequently somewhat later than in the rest of 
the country. 

Post-annexation Punjabi writing corresponded roughly to the social 
and political changes produced by the Singh Sabha movement followed 
by the Akali and the Marxist. In each case, the literary output bore the 
impress of the problems which faced the protagonists of these move- 
ments. There were, however, some writers who remained oblivious to 
social and political problems and wrote, as it were, for the sake of 


Appendix 1 

The literary output of the Singh Sabha movement is the most 
important part of its contribution to Sikhism. The person to whom it 
owes most is Bhai Vir Singh, who recreated interest in Punjabi and 
established a landmark in the history of the language. Vir Singh 
(1872-1956) wrote fiction, poetry (notably ghazals) and commentaries 
on the sacred texts. 

Vir Singh's early writing has to be viewed with reference to the social 
and political conditions at the end of the nineteenth century. His novels, 
which made him known in millions of homes, were written at a time 
when the Punjabis were beginning to doubt the achievements of their- 
ancestors. English historians harped on the crude and corrupt Sikh 
rule, which they had replaced by an 'enlightened' one. Sanskrit scholars 
belittled the religion of the Sikhs as a poor imitation of the Vedic and 
ridiculed its forms and symbols as barbarous. Vir Singh's novels, 
Sundari, Vijay Singh, Satwant Kaur and Babd Naudh Singh, had as their 
central theme the heroism and chivalry of the Sikhs and the ethical 
excellence of their religion. This was set in contrast to the servility of 
the Hindu masses and the oppression of the Pathan and Mughal rulers. 
The Sikhs devoured Vir Singh's novels with enthusiasm and gratitude. 
But with the passing of that peculiar mental state, the novels lost their 
appeal. To the present-day reader, they appear somewhat insipid. 
Their place is not in literature but in history. 

Vir Singh himself gave up writing fiction and turned to translat- 
ing and explaining the scriptures in a series of pamphlets and in his 
weekly paper, the Khalsa Samachar. Along with these appeared his 
poems, which gave him the most honoured place among Punjabi poets. 

Vir Singh first experimented in blank verse. A long poem, Edna Surat 
Singh, was published in 1905. The theme, as usual, was religion. His 
technique and mastery over the language was impressive. No one had 
successfully written blank verse in Punjabi before; Vir Singh turned out 
a work of sustained excellence, where alliteration and onomatopoeia, 
rhythm, and repetition produced a lilting melody with all the languorous 
sensuousness of a summer afternoon. Thereafter Vir Singh wrote the 
biographies of two Sikh Gurus, the founder, Nanak, and the last, Guru 
Gobind Singh. Kalgidhar Chamatkdr, the life of Guru Gobind, appeared 
first and was followed three years later by Guru Nanak Chamatkdr. The 
lives of the remaining eight Gurus were composed in Asht Guru Chamatkdr. 

In between these biographies, Vir Singh published several collec- 
tions of verse employing a short metre not used by Punjabi poets. The 
most popular of these were in the form of rubdis (familiar to the readers 

Appendix 1 


of Omar Khayyam). In these he expressed his philosophy and mysti- 
cism, where the love of God and human beings, the spiritual and the 
sensual, moral and divine, moved in a colourful kaleidoscope, beautiful 
and baffling- There was always an underlying sense of humility, at times 
almost masochistic. Bhai Vir Singh had not given up experimenting 
even in his later vears. In The Vigil, published posthumously, he 
recaptured his ability to describe nature and invest physical longing 
with divine attributes: 

Shades of twilight fell, 

A gentle gloom had spread. 

I mused: maybe today 

You would come when it was dark. 

I blew out the street lamp, 

Put out the light in the niche, 

Smothered the taper in the house. 

1 sat in the dark and was lost in waiting 
Maybe tonight You might wish to come 
With soft, unsounding tread, 
In absolute stillness, in absolute dark. 

★ * * 

Hark! What was that noise? 
Was He coming? 

I went and looked out of my window, 
There was lightning and thunder. 

My heart stopped. 

Maybe tonight You might come 

With fireworks 

And with flaming torches! 

I rose in a hurry, 

Put on the light in the house. 

Touched with flame the taper in the niche, 

Relit the lamp in the street 

With eager, impatient haste. 

I mused: Maybe You would come seeing the light, 
Maybe you would turn back if the house were in darkness 
And I be left waiting for ever and ever. 

★ ★ * 


Appendix 1 

Clouds gathered, black and lowering, 

Torn by flashes of lightning, 

Then came rain in torrents, 

Lanes and streets became muddy swamps. 

The lightning is over, 

Gone in a flicker of an eyelid 

As if it knew my heart's desire. 

Even the dark clouds are gone 

Baring a sky clean.-washed and shining, 

Carrying the moon in its lap like a babe 

With the Stars scattered around. 

Still I sit and wait. 

The moon also awaits. 
Look, how the moonbeams have spread 
Their shimmering silver over the mud, 
Spread a carpet of velvet-white on Your path! 

★ * * 

The first ray of dawn has lit the sky, 
The sparrow twitters, 
The morning breeze, 
Soft, sweet, fluting, 
Enfolds me in its embrace. 
Great Giver! Light of the Morning! 
Everything, everywhere wakes to life, 
Expectant are dawn and daylight. 

The longing burgeons with the morning. 
The sun is risen 

As yesterday it rose and every day. 
People have woken from their slumbers 
And go about the streets and by-lanes. 
Only I sit and wait. 
Lord, what else can I do! 
Lord, what more can I do! 

Two contemporaries of Bhai Vir Singh, Puran Singh (1881-1931) 
and Dhani Ram 'Chatrik 1 (1870-1954) deserve mention. Puran Singh, 
trained in chemistry in which he submitted several research papers, 
turned to creative literature in Punjabi and English. He was influenced 
by Walt Whitman and produced some vigorous blank verse in both 

Appendix 1 


languages. Whereas Bhai Vir Singh was a traditionlist and extolled the 
golden past of the Sikhs, Puran Singh was forward looking, emphasized 
the Sikhs' Punjabi identity, the universality in the writings of the Sikh 
Gurus and the role of the self in moulding human destiny. His better 
known works in English are Sisters of the Spinning Wheel, Path of Life and 
Spirit Born People. 

Dhani Ram 'Chatrik' published several collections of verse. His 
lyrics were surfeit with Punjabi colloquialisms — charming in the origi- 
nal but extremely hard to translate. 

Poetry remains the most popular form of literarv expression to this 
day. Newspapers and magazines devote a large part of their space to 
poems, and a symposium (kavi darbar) will still draw a larger crowd than 
a political or a religious meeting. Most of this new poetry is, howev er, of 
indifferent quality. Two exceptions are Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam. 

Mohan Singh (1905-78) made a promising start with his Save Pair 
(Green Leaves) and soon came to be recognized as the best of the 
younger poets. His later work, published after partition, showed a 
strong left-wing bias, where political emotion was given precedence 
over poetical form— a malaise which has afflicted a large number of 
younger writers who label themselves 'progressive'. In the case of 
Mohan Singh, the first flush of Marxism soon settled down to simple 
championing of the underdog and an exhortation to work. He was once 
more able to recapture the spontaneous beauty of his earlier writing: 

The pitch-black within the pitcher has burst 
Spilling the milk-white of the moonlight. 
It is time we talked of a new dawn 
And gave up the gossiping of the night. 

I grant that autumn's touch 
Hath robbed some leaves of their sap. 
Sorrow not for what is lost and gone, 
With hope anew fill thy lap. 

How long on the ancient vault of heaven 
Idle fantasies draw and hold them dear? 
Come let us caress the earth's tresses, 
Come let us talk of something near. 

Amrita Pritam (b.1919) published her first collection of poems when 
she was only seventeen. Her earliest efforts were heavy with criticism 
of evil social customs. Although she has given up preaching, the hard 


Appendix 1 

lot of Indian women remains the dominant theme in most of her poetry 
and prose. Her writing has improved steadily as the songstress in her 
gained dominance over the suffragette but the feminist protest has 
never been totally silenced. She was influenced by her pseudo-Marxist 
contemporaries, became 'progressive' and at times propagandist. The 
great famine of Bengal of 1943 moved her to declaim that 'the talk of 
love and beauty is talk of idle times and idle people.' But once again 
the mother in her triumphed over the Marxist and her writing took the 
form of a soulful dirge rather than an angry denunciation. She became 
in her own words, 'the chronicler of India's misfortunes' . The internecine 
massacres of 1947, which took such heavy toll of human life, stirred 
her to write one of her most memorable poems. She addressed it to 
Warris Shah and exhorted him to rise from his grave and see the havoc 
wrought in his own land. 

O, comforter of the sorrowing, rise and behold thy Punjab 
Its fields are strewn with corpses, blood runs in the Chenab 

Amrita Pritam's poetry has been veering towards the sentimental 
and romantic, with delicate allusions to natural phenomena: 

Spring is here again, 
Flowers are silken clad 
For the festival of colours, 
But thou are not here. 

The days have lengthened, 
The grape is touched with pink, 
The scythe hath kissed the corn, 
But thou art not here. 

Clouds are spread across the sky, 
The earth hath opened her palms 
And drunk the draught of kindness, 
But thou art not here. 

The trees are touched with magic, 
Lips of the winds that kiss the woodlands 
Are full of honey, 
But thou art not here. 

Bewitching seasons have come and gone, 
Many moons have woven plaits 
On the black tresses of night, 
But thou are not here. 

Appendix 1 


Today again the stars did stay 

In life's mansion, even now 

The lamps of beauty are still aflame, 

But thou an not here. 

Rays of the sun did also whisper, 
In the deep slumbers of the night 
The moon is ever awake, 
But thou art not here. 

Amrita Pritam has not achieved the same distinction in her fiction 
as she has in her poetry. Her characterization is often weak and her 
plots so contrived as to appear manifestly unreal. The Indian film 
industry has exercised on her, as it has on many Indian writers of her 
generation, a most baneful influence; the narratives of their novels are 
interspersed with song, and people find themselves in situations which 
seldom obtain in real life in India. These shortcomings are evident in 
her most popular novel, Dr Dev. Amrita is at her best in Pin jar — The 
Skeleton. The Skeleton is the story of a Hindu girl, Pooro, who is abducted 
and forcibly married to a Muslim and whose hatred for her ravisher 
gradually turns to love. Together they help Hindu, and Sikh refugees 
to escape from Pakistan to India. Through Pooro, the chief character 
of the story, Amrita expresses her resentment against social conven- 
tions, male lustfulness, and sorrowful resignation to fate which, accord- 
ing to her, is the lot of Indian womanhood. 

A contemporary of Mohan Singh and Amrita Pritam was the revo- 
lutionary agnostic poet Darshan Singh Awara. Since he intended to 
communicate with the illiterate masses, his poems were propagandist 
and meant to be recited at political meetings. 

Of a different genre is Harbhajan Singh (b.1920) who distinguished 
himself by use of new diction and lyricism. His better known works 
include Adhraini (Midnight) and Na Dhuppe Na Chhaven (Neither in 
Sunshine Nor in Shade). 

Two poets deserve mention as trendsetters for the modern genera- 
tion of writers: Tara Singh Kamil, a carpenter by profession, also 
representative of the reaction to obscurantism which had at one time 
come into vogue. He is a favourite of the kavi darbars, where rapport 
between the bard and his audience is essential. Trie Lovers' Plight is a 
sample of his technique: 

In the months of May and June, 

In the summer's heat, on a hot afternoon, 


Appendix 1 

Like a fluff of thistledown floating in the air 
Casting its shadow on a piece of straw 
For a fleeting moment; so hath 
Thy love been to me. 

Beloved mine! Thy face is like the moon 

New risen in the hours of early dawn. 

I have treasured the memory of Thy love. 

As traveller numb and cold 

Seeks shelter in the wayside hut, and 

When rain and sleet beat upon its thatched roof 

He lights a fire, guards the glowing embers 

In his embrace and lets the dirty water 

Leaking through the roof drip upon his back, 

So have I cherished thy love. 

Shiv Kumar Batalvi (1936-73) burst on the Punjabi literary scene 
like a meteor. He was a raffish young man with his roots in the dung 
heaps of his village and steeped in folklore and mythology. He was a 
born poet; whatever he wrote on turned into a lyrical masterpiece. His 
best known work, Loona, was based on the story of Prince Pooran 
Bhagat, son of King Salvathan. In the epic, on rebuffing his step- 
mother's ( Loona* s) advances to him, she instigated her old husband 
to torture his son for having coveted her. In Shiv Batalvi* s version, 
Loona, instead of being the villain, is depicted as a lusty young woman 
frustrated by her ageing husband's impotence and yearning for love 
from her handsome stepson. Loona won immediate acclaim. Shiv 
Batalvi was the youngest writer to have been given the Sahitya Akademi 
Award in 1967. He drank himself to death before he was thirty-seven. 
'The best time to die is in the fullness of youth,' he wrote. 

Belles Lettres, Fiction, and Drama 

The outstanding figures in Punjabi prose are Gurbaksh Singh 
(1895-1977), editor of the monthly magazine, Prit Lari and Dr Balbir 
Singh, younger brother of the poet, Vir Singh. Gurbaksh Singh was 
closely associated with the Communist party and had been the main 
influence on many of the Punjab's younger writers. His manifestly 
propagandist writing was, however, redeemed by a felicity of style and 
diction. Gurbaksh Singh wrote novels, plays, short stories, and essays. 
Dr Balbir Singh was, like his brother, deeply religious; he was also the 

Appendix 1 


most erudite of contemporary Sikh writers. His essays display a knowl- 
edge of both European and Sanskrit literature and are written in chaste 
and simple Punjabi. He published two books Kalam di Kardmat (The 
Miracle of the Pen) and Lami Nadar (Grace Abounding) — both of which 
were acclaimed by critics. 

The novel as a form of writing came somewhat late to the Punjab. 
The best known contemporary novelist, Nanak Singh (1897-197?), 
wrote over two dozen novels and remains the most widely read Punjabi 
writer. His language is of the less educated class of Indians and is 
interspersed with English words; his plots are contrived. 

Punjabi literature's most notable achievement is in its short stories. 
By introducing modern techniques, the Punjabi writer has been able 
to develop the tradition of the fable. Sant Singh Sekhon (b.1908) 
abandoned the straightforward narrative and made dexterous use of 
illusion, understatement, and auto-suggestion. Kartar Singh Duggal 
(b.1919) is the leading writer of short stories and introduced the 
dialect of Rawalpindi district into Punjabi writing. His collections Sver 
Sar (Early Morning) and Navdn Ghar (The New Home) are noteworthy. 
In the same way Kulwant Singh Virk injected the dialect of the Jats of 
Majha into his short stories. Virk's later work became somewhat 
sophisticated and he began to write of the lower middle-class life in 
small towns. 

A significant modernization in the style of short-story writing has 
come with the emergence of Ajeet Cour (b.1934). Several of her dozen 
or so novelettes and collections of short stories have been translated 
into English, Urdu and Hindi and published in prestigious journals. In 
her work is brevity, wit, satire and subdued pathos without any indul- 
gence in hyperbole or purple prose. For the first time we get a candid 
exposure of human emotions and physical relationships. Her autobiog- 
raphy Khana Badosh (Homeless Wanderer) tells of her broken mar- 
riage, the death of her younger child and the struggle for survival of a 
young divorcee in a venally masculine society. It won her the Sahitya 
Akademi Award in 1986. 

The most neglected aspect of Punjabi writing is drama. Only recently 
did the Punjab build its first proper theatre at Chandigarh; it still has 
no professional actors or producers. The Punjabi dramatists' exposi- 
tion has been confined to writing plays for broadcasting or suffering 
them to be performed by amateurs at drama festivals. Nevertheless, 
Balwant Gargi had some of his plays translated and enacted in the 
Soviet Union, and United States, Canada and on TV. 


Appendix 1 

Future Prospects of Punjabi 

Most Sikh politicians have tried at one time or the other to write or 
versify, for example, Master Tara Singh, Gurmukh Singh Musafir, 
Sohan Singh Josh, Hira Singh 'Dard,' Teja. Singh Swatantra. They have 
novels, short stories, or collections of poems to their credit. This 
emphasis on literary prowess was undoubtedly one of the factors behind 
the united demand for official recognition of Punjabi, the setting up of 
a Punjabi-speaking zone and a Punjabi Akademi. Official recognition 
has thus compensated for the loss sustained by the recognition of Urdu 
in Pakistan and the patronage of Hindi in India. 

Punjabi literature continues to depend largely on Sikh writers 
using the Gurmukhi script. The dialects are disappearing; with use of 
a more standardized diction, Punjabi is beginning to lose some of its 
rustic vigour. These shortcomings are being partly offset by the 
production of translations of classics of other languages and the 
infusion of alien concepts and literary forms. Punjabi writers have to 
compete with Hindi and Urdu as well as English and French writings 
translated into Punjabi. Impatience with the poor standard of contem- 
porary writing has also produced school of critics who have broken 
the tradition of restricting appraisal to praise and have begun to 
demand better work from the novelists and the poets. The yeast has 
begun to ferment; Punjabi is on the eve of its long awaited renaissance. 

Sikh Painting 

A Sikh school of painting came into existence as the Sikhs rose to 
power. In the early stages, it consisted largely of calligraphists who 
produced gutkds — books of daily prayer (nit nem). The pages of these 
prayer books were garnished with floral designs and paintings of the 
Gurus at appropriate pages. Most of these painters followed the 
techniques and patterns of the schools of painting which had evolved 
under the patronage of the Rajput chieftains around the hills of Kulu, 
Kangra, and Basohli. When the Sikhs became rulers of the Punjab, 
painters flocked to their courts. In addition to the paintings of religious 
themes, they made portraits of their patrons and other pictures — often 
erotic — for their patrons* delectation. Many Sikh chiefs commissioned 
artists to paint frescoes in their palaces. 

Maharajah Ranjit Singh, despite his philistine upbringing, was a 
generous patron of the arts. After he subdued Raja Sansar Chand of 

Appendix 1 


Kangra in 1809, there was a virtual exodus of painters from the hills 
to the plains of the Punjab. Hari Singh Nalwa, the Bedis of Una, 
the Attariwalas, and the Raja of Kapurthala shared Ranjit Singh's 
interest in painting and commissioned illustrated books, portraits, 
and frescoes. Ranjit Singh employed these artists to do the frescoes 
and the other decorations in the Golden Temple at Amritsar; the 
most distinguished of the craftsmen employed was one Kehar Singh. 
Much of the pietra dura designs and frescoes in the Golden Temple 
are the work of this man. The painters of the temple were in all 
probability also responsible for the frescoes in Ranjit Singh's mauso- 
leum in Lahore. 

Kehar Singh created a school of naqases- — craftsmen — who contin- 
ued to work in the many appurtenances of the Golden Temple. He was 
also a gifted caricaturist and displayed his skill in portraits of nihangs 
and other Punjabi rustic types. Gyan Singh (1883-1953) and his sons 
after him continued the tradition of Kehar Singh and spent their lives 
working in the Golden Temple. 

The most outstanding Indian painter of recent times was the Sikh, 
Amrita Shergil (1911-41). Amrita was the daughter of Umrao Singh 
Shergil (elder brother of Sunder Singh Majithia) and his Hungarian 
wife. She was trained in Paris, and her early work shows the influence 
of French masters, chiefly Gaugin. When she returned to India, she 
jettisoned the European technqiue and became an ardent traditionalist. 
Her best work is reminiscent of the Rajasthani and Kangra schools but 
is executed on a large canvas and in brighter oranges and whites. 
Amrita Shergil died at the age of thirty. Whatever she did in those short 
years has become the most coveted national treasure of India. Her 
canvases hang in the National Gallery in New Delhi. 

Contemporary Sikh artists have not distinguished themselves, The 
best known are Sobha Singh and S. G. Thakur Singh. Sobha Singh 
painted pictures of the Sikh Gurus and illustrated themes from Punjabi 
folklore. S. G. Thakur Singh was the head of an Academy of Arts in 
Amritsar. He painted both portraits and landscapes. His forte was 
photographic likenesses of the subject. Following in his tradition is a 
young artist, Kirpal Singh, who has illustrated macabre incidents in 
Sikh history. Kirpal Singh's paintings are exhibited in the picture 
gallery attached to the Golden Temple. 

Mention should be made of Gurcharan Singh, regarded as the father 
of modern Indian pottery. He is in his mid-30s, but has trained a large 
number of younger potters to carry on the tradition. 


Appendix 1 

A large number of young Sikh painters and sculptors are at work in 
different parts of the world. It is difficult to single out the outstanding. 
Jaswant Singh (b. 1922), who received no formal training, has evolved 
a style of his own in abstract painting, a visual rendering of Indian 
ragas. Arpana Caur (b. 1954), the daughter of the writer Ajeet Cour, 
is among the most talked about painters of the younger generation. Her 
works have been exhibited in all major Indian cities, the Soviet Union, 
England, the United States and many other countries. Although in- 
spired by miniatures, she paints in bold striking colours depicting 
modern themes like the anti-Sikh pogrom in Delhi in November 1984. 
In 1986 she won the prestigious International Triennale Award, the 
youngest woman to do so. 

Appendix 2 

Treaty Between the British Government 
and the State of Lahore, 9 March 1846 

Whereas the treaty of amity and concord, which was concluded 
between the British Government and the late Maharajah Runjeet 
Sing, the Ruler of Lahore, in 1809, was broken by the unprovoked ag- 
gression, on the British Provinces, of the Sikh Army, in December last; 
and Whereas, on that occasion, by the Proclamation, dated 13th Decem- 
ber, the territories then in the occupation of the Maharajah of Lahore, 
on the left or British bank of the River Sutlej, were confiscated and 
annexed to the British Provinces; and since that time hostile operations 
have been prosecuted by the two Governments, the one against the other, 
which have resulted in the occupation of Lahore by the British troops; 
and Whereas it has been determined that, upon certain conditions, peace 
shall be re-established between the two Governments, the following treaty 
of peace between the Honorable English East India Company and Ma- 
harajah Dhuleep Sing Bahadoor, and his children, heirs and successors, 
has been concluded on the part of the Honorable Company by Frederick 
Currie, Esquire, and Brevet-Major Henry Montgomery Lawrence, by 
virtue of full powers to that eff ect vested in them by the Right Hon'ble 
Sir Henry Hardinge. G.C.B., one of Her Britannic Majesty's Most Hon- 
orable Privy Council, Governor-General, appointed by the Honorable 
Company to direct and control all their affairs in the East Indies, and 
on the part of His Highness Maharajah Dhuleep Sing by Bhaee Ram 
Sing, Rajah Lai Sing, Sirdar Tej Sing, Sirdar Chuttur Sing Attareewalla, 
Sirdar Runjore Sing Majeethia, Dewan Deena Nath and Fakeer Noorood- 
deen, vested with full powers and authority on the part of His Highness. 


Appendix 2 

Article 1 

There shall be perpetual peace and friendship between the British 
Government on the one part, and Maharajah Dhuleep Sing, his heirs 
and successors on the other. 

Article 2 

The Maharajah of Lahore renounces for himself, his heirs and 
successors, all claim to, or connection with, the territories tying to the 
south of the River Sutlej, and engages never to have any concern with 
those territories or inhabitants thereof. 

Article 3 

The Maharajah cedes to the Honorable Company, in perpetual sover- 
eignty, all his forts, territories and rights in the Doab or country, hill 
and plain, situated between the Rivers Beas and Sutlej. 

Article 4 

The British Government having demanded from the Lahore State, as 
indemnification for the expenses of the war, in addition to the cession 
of territory described in Article 3, payment of one and half crore of 
rupees, and the Lahore Government, being unable to pay the whole of 
this sum at this time, or to give security satisfactory to the British 
Government for its eventual payment, the Maharajah cedes to the 
Honorable Company, in perpetual sovereignty, as equivalent for one 
crore of rupees, all his forts, territories, rights and interests in the hill 
countries, which are situated between the Rivers Beas and Indus, 
including the Provinces of Cashmere and Hazarah. 

Article 5 

The Maharajah will pay to the British Government the sum of 50 lakhs 
of rupees on or before the ratification of this Treaty. 

Article 6 

The Maharajah engages to disband the mutinous troops of the Lahore 
Army, taking from them their arms — and His Highness agrees to re- 
organise the Regular or Aeen Regiments of Infantry, upon the system, 

Appendix 2 


and according to the Regulations as to pay and allowances, observed 
in the time of the late Maharajah Runjeet Sing. The Maharajah further 
engages to pay up all arrears to the soldiers that are discharged, under 
the provisions of this Article. 

Article 7 

The Regular Army of the Lahore State shall henceforth be limited Lo 
25 Battalions of Infantry, consisting of 800 bayonets each — with twelve 
thousand cavalry — this number at no time to be exceeded without the 
concurrence of the British Government. Should it be necessary at any 
time — tor any special cause — that this force should be increased, the 
cause shall be fully explained to the British Government, and when the 
special necessity shall have passed, the regular troops shall be again 
reduced to the standard specified in the former clause of this Article. 

Article 8 

The Maharajah will surrender to the British Government all the guns — 
thirty-six in number — which have been pointed against the British 
Troops — and which, having been placed on the right bank of the River 
Sutlej, were not captured at the Battle of Subraon. 

Article 9 

The control of the Rivers Beas and Sutlej, with the continuations of the 
latter river, commonly called the Gurrah and the Punjnud, to the 
confluence of the Indus at Mithunkote — and the control of the Indus 
from Mithunkote to the borders of Beloochistan, shall, in respect to 
tolls and ferries, rest with the British Government. The provisions of 
this Article shall not interfere with the passage of boats belonging to 
the Lahore Government on the said rivers, for the purposes of traffic 
or the conveyance of passengers up and down their course. Regarding 
the ferries between the two countries respectively, at the several ghats 
of the said rivers, it is agreed that the British Government, after 
defraying all the expenses of management and establishments, shall 
account to the Lahore Government for one-half of the net profits of the 
ferry collections. The provisions of this Article have no reference to the 
ferries on that part of the River Sutlej which forms the boundary of 
Bhawulpore and Lahore respectively. 


Appendix 2 

Article 10 

If the British Government should, at any time, desire to pass troops 
through the territories of His Highness the Maharajah, for the protec- 
tion of the British Territories, or those of their Allies, the British Troops 
shall, on such special occasion, due notice being given, be allowed to 
pass through the Lahore Territories. In such case the Officers of the 
Lahore State will afford facilities in providing supplies and boats for 
the passage of rivers, and the British Government will pay the full price 
of all such provisions and boats, and will make fair compensation for 
all private property that may be endamaged. The British Government 
will, moreover, observe all due consideration to the religious feelings 
of the inhabitants of those tracts through which the army may pass. 

Article 11 

The Maharajah engages never to take or to retain in his service any 
British subject — nor the subject of any European or American State — 
without the consent of the British Government. 

Article 12 

In consideration of the services rendered by Rajah Golab Sing, of 
Jummoo, to the Lahore State, towards procuring the restoration of the 
relations of amity between the Lahore and British Governments, the 
Maharajah hereby agrees to recognise the Independent Sovereignty of 
Rajah Golab Sing, in such territories and districts in the hills as may 
be made over to the said Rajah Golab Sing, by separate Agreement 
between himself and the British Government, with the dependencies 
thereof, which may have been in the Rajah's possession since the time 
of the late Maharajah Khurruck Sing, and the British Government, in 
consideration of the good conduct of Rajah Golab Sing, also agrees 
to recognize his independence in such territories, and to admit him 
to the privileges of a separate Treaty with the British Government. 

Article 13 

In the event of any dispute or difference arising between the Lahore 
State and Rajah Golab Sing, the same shall be referred to the arbitra- 
tion of the British Government, and by its decision the Maharajah 
engages to abide. 

Appendix 2 


Article 14 

The limits of the Lahore Territories shall not be, at any time, changed 
without the concurrence of the British Government. 

Article 15 

The British Government will not exercise any interference in the inter- 
nal administration of the Lahore State — but in all cases or questions 
which may be referred to the British Government, the Governor-General 
will give the aid of his advice and good offices for the furtherance of 
the interests of the Lahore Government. 

Article 16 

The subjects of either State shall, on visiting the territories of the other, 
be on the footing of the subjects of the most favoured nation. 

This Treaty, consisting of sixteen articles, has been this day settled 
by Frederick Currie, Esquire, and Brevet-Major Henry Montgomery 
Lawrence acting under the directions of the Right Hon'ble Sir Henry 
Hardinge, G.C.B., Governor-General, on the part of the British Govern- 
ment, and by Bhaee Ram Sing, Rajah Lai Sing, Sirdar Tej Sing, Sirdar 
Chuttur Sing Attareewalla, Sirdar Runjore Sing Majeethia, Dewan 
Deena Nath, and Fuqueer Noorooddeen, on the part of the Maharajah 
Dhuleep Sing, and the said Treaty has been this day ratified by the 
seal of the Right Hon'ble Sir Henry Hardinge, G.C.B., Governor- 
General, and by that of His Highness Maharajah Dhuleep Sing. 

Done at Lahore, this ninth day of March, in the year of Our Lord 
one thousand eight hundred and forty-six, corresponding with the 1 Oth 
day of Rubbeeool-awul, 1262 Hijree, and ratified on the same date. 

(Sd.) H. Hardinge 

(Sd.) Maharajah Dhuleep Sing 
Bhaee Ram Sing 
Rajah Lai Sing 
Sirdar Tej Sing 

Sirdar Chuttur Sing Attareewalla 
Sirdar Runjore Sing Majeethia 
Dewan Deena Nath 
Fuqueer Noorooddeen 


Appendix 3 

Articles of Agreement Concluded 
Between the British Government and 
the Lahore Durbar on 11 March 1846 

Whereas the Lahore Government has solicited the Governor- 
General to leave a British force at Lahore, for the protection of 
the Maharajah's person and of the Capital, till the reorganization of the 
Lahore army, according to the provisions of Article 6 of the Treaty of 
Lahore, dated the 9th instant, and Whereas the Governor-General has, 
on certain conditions, consented to the measure; and Whereas it is 
expedient that certain matters concerning the territories ceded by 
Articles 3 and 4 of the aforesaid Treaty should be specifically de- 
termined, the following eight Articles of Agreement have this day been 
concluded between the aforementioned contracting parties. 

Article 1 

The British Government shall leave at Lahore, till the close of the current 
year, A.D. 1846, such force as shall seem to the Governor-General 
adequate for the purpose of protecting the person of the Maharajah 
and the inhabitants of the City of Lahore, during the reorganisation of 
the Sikh army, in accordance with the provisions